Tips and Trends For Winning At Del Mar

The Del Mar Summer meet opens on Friday, July 16, and runs through Labor Day, Sept. 6. Our contributor Noel Michaels looks at some of the track trends that can help make your days at Del Mar profitable.


By Noel Michaels

It’s summer in Southern California, and for horseplayers that can only mean one thing: Del Mar is here!

The Del Mar summer meet opens on Friday, July 16, and will usher in California’s fun-loving season of race – Where The Turf Meets The Surf.

Del Mar will run mostly four days a week, Thursday through Sunday, for eight weeks.

For handicappers, Del Mar is a welcome change from the small fields, limited race days, and sparse betting opportunities offered at the recently concluded Los Alamitos meet. Read on for some handicapping advice on what to look for to win at Del Mar.

Checking on the main track

Speed is not the only asset needed to win over the main track. The track can be speed favoring, but overall, it tends to play fair and the front-end preference should not be termed a “bias.”  Most tracks, including the others on the SoCal circuit, tend to favor speed much more than Del Mar.

This gives late runners a better chance to win and turns a lot of Santa Anita closing losers into Del Mar rallying winners.

At 6 furlongs, Del Mar will likely favor horses with tactical speed, capable of leading, pressing or stalking, but certainly not as much as at Santa Anita. This means that come-from-behind horses do better at Del Mar than at Santa Anita and much better than at Los Al.

At Del Mar, roughly 20% of all 6-furlong races are won wire-to-wire as opposed to nearly 30% at Santa Anita.

If you want to bet against front runners, the best time to do so is at the distances of 6 ½ furlongs and 7 furlongs. It’s still important to race within three lengths of the lead at the first call at these two distances, but front-running speed wins less often meaning that it is tactical speedsters and pressers win most of these races.

To whittle it down: Downgrade front-runners who won at Santa Anita at 6 ½ furlongs and 7 furlongs, and upgrade pressing or close-up stalking horses with tactical speed that came-up a little short in their recent starts.

Stay away from tactical speed at two-turn, mile races

Here is another betting angle: At the distance of 1 mile (two turns), tactical speed tends to be a money-loser. The best two ways to win at Del Mar at a mile on dirt are: go to the lead (nearly 40% wins for horses on or close to the pace); or close from more than three lengths off the pace (stalkers and closers account for 35% winners). That makes this distance best for closers on the main track, and by far the worst for pressers and close-up stalkers.

Dirt races carded at 1 1/16 miles and beyond, are becoming more infrequent at Del Mar, and the small sample size makes compiling winning trends less reliable. At the summer 2019 Del Mar meet, only 7 dirt races were run at 1 1/16 miles or longer. In 2020, that number was six, with one being the 1 ¼-mile Pacific Classic.

As far as favorable post positions go, the first thing you want to look at are 1-mile races, where it is difficult to win from outside of post 7. At the 2020 summer meet, 36 horses started from posts 8-10, and two won. That’s a win percentage of about 6%.

Post positions in dirt sprints tend to be trickier. Post positions are fair at 5 ½ furlongs, which has nearly caught-up to 6 furlongs as the most run distance. It is interesting to note, however, that the rail wins less often than any other inside draw at 6 furlongs (3-for-38 in summer 2020) and 6 ½ furlongs (1-for-22). At the distance of 7 furlongs the inside two posts appear to be somewhat of a disadvantage based on summer stats from 2018-2020, when runners from post 1 won 3 of 35 races, and post 2 won 2 of 35 starts at 7 furlongs.

Del Mar’s formful turf course is one of the best

On the turf, Del Mar cards some of the country’s best racing. Since Del Mar installed a new turf course in 2016, the year before it hosted the Breeders’ Cup, there was little or no post position advantage at nearly every distance. Most of Del Mar’s turf routes are run at 1 mile or 1 1/16 miles. A handful of races are run at 1 3/8 miles on turf, and approximately 5-10 turf races per season are carded at 1 1/8 miles. The 1 1/8-mile distance appears to be the one turf trip at Del Mar where you don’t want to draw an outside post, because the last three summers, not a single grass horse won from wider than post 8.

In terms of running style preferences in turf routes, 20% of Del Mar’s races can be expected to be won on the lead, while 35% of these races are won by horses that are coming from more than three lengths back at the second call.

This means: Turf closers do much better at Del Mar than at Santa Anita and should therefore be upgraded if they lost there; and pace pressers and close-up stalkers account for 45% of the victories, making it the best running style in turf routes.

In turf sprints, Santa Anita turf sprint form may not translate to Del Mar. Different horses tend to win on these different turf courses. Early speed horses generally have better chances to hold on in Del Mar’s 5-furlong. But we will have to see if this continues.

As far as turf sprint post positions are concerned, based on stats from the past three Del Mar summer meets, there is little or no advantage to be had from inside, middle, or outside posts and horses from all parts of the gate win their share.

Sometimes, however, even no bias can result in a handicapping tip. Bettors often downgrade outside posts in turf sprints because they perceive them as a negative. At Del Mar, this can lead to overlays.

By using these simple running style and post position trends as a rough guideline, hopefully you will have a foundation for picking more winners at Del Mar. Enjoy the season and best of luck!

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