By Noel Michaels
We’re two weeks into the 2020 Saratoga meet and already we have some jockey, trainer and post position trends to chew on. Here’s a look at some hot and cold jockeys, trainers and trends at the Spa so far.
The early trainers’ standings through July 26 at Saratoga are most surprising all the way at the top. Perennial leading trainer Chad Brown has been winning, as expected, but he is currently not the leading trainer at the meet. That distinction presently goes to the red-hot Christophe Clement, who continued his recent winning ways from the Belmont meet (14 victories) to get out to a blazing 10-for-26 start to the Saratoga season for 38 percent wins and 73 percent in the money (ITM). It should come as no surprise that Clement is doing most of his damage in turf races, winning eight from 20 starters for 40 percent.
Brown, meanwhile, has too many weapons in his stable not to end up as leading trainer at the meet. His record so far is fine in the real world, but rather underwhelming by his own standards with eight winners from 37 starters for a 22 percent rate. This means that betting Brown’s runners at the meet has been a losing proposition, with his average win payoff sitting at $6.70. Particularly disappointing is Brown’s current record on the turf, which stands at 5-for-26 for less than 20 percent.
The trainer who is not disappointing at this stage is Todd Pletcher, who is tied for second with Brown at eight victories. In Pletcher’s case, however, he’s had only 23 starters, so his win percentage is up at 35 percent. His average winner has paid $10, too, meaning that if you are on the Todd train at the Spa, you’re making money.
Two more money-making trainers to focus on are Linda Rice and Mike Maker. Rice is 6-for-22 for 27 percent wins, and Maker is 5-for-20 for 25 percent. Maker has been lethal on the turf with four wins and an average win payoff of $16.80, while Rice has done her best work with 3-year-olds, maidens, and claimers.
Not every trainer likely to have a big Spa meet is off to a hot start. Some trainers have started slow but are building. One of them is Danny Gargan, who won with 11-of-41 starters at the Spa in 2019, but is 1-for-15 this season. Gargan has 8-of-15 ITM, however, and many of these early season losses will turn into wins before the meet is over. Another trainer in this category is perennial Saratoga slow-starter Mark Casse, who at 0-for-12 annually loses the first half of the Saratoga season and then wins during the second half as his horses make their second or third starts of the meet.
Trainers off to slow starts include David Cannizzo (0-for-10), Chris Englehart (0-for-11), Graham Motion (0-for-9), Robertino Diodoro (0-for-7), and Jeremiah Englehart (1-for-14). Steve Asmussen has won with three from 15 starters, but he’s 0-for-6 on the turf and has won only with heavy chalk. His average winner has paid $4.50.
In the jock’s room, the early leaders should come as a surprise to no one with Jose Ortiz (16 wins), Irad Ortiz, Jr. (14 wins), and Joel Rosario (13 wins) leading the way, all with winning percentages in the sustainable 21-22 percent range.
It’s not surprising to see Jose Ortiz and Irad Ortiz atop the standings, but what is a surprise is that their average winners so far have paid $12.30 and $10.90, respectively. That means you can actually make money betting these guys. Jose has been dominant on the grass with 11 wins from 40 mounts (28 percent), while Irad is the man you want aboard your horse on the main track with nine wins from 31 mounts (29 percent). Jose has done tremendous business among a wide swath or trainers including Maker, while Irad has benefited from riding many of Brown’s top horses and most of Pletcher’s winners (instead of John Velazquez).
Joel Rosario has formed a tough team with Clement to help power him to his 13 wins, and also has been riding top horses from the Asmussen and Shug McGaughey barns.
One of the biggest surprises so far has been the fast start of Tyler Gaffalione, who has not done well in previous forays into New York. He is off to a promising start with seven wins from 46 mounts (15 percent) for an array of trainers.
Other jockeys to bet right now include Jose Lezcano, who has five wins and is forming perhaps the meet’s best jockey/trainer combo so far with Rice, and Junior Alvarado, who consistently gets overlooked and underbet on the New York circuit. He generally rides first call for Bill Mott and others, but his average win payoff early in the meet sits at $23.40.
One last category involves post positions. Some things to note so far in terms of winning posts have included the futility of outside posts, both in main track sprints and inner turf routes. Despite lots of big fields in many of these races, runners from outside posts have struggled. All but two of 36 dirt sprints so far have been won from posts 1-7, with outside runners going a combined 2-for-32. In inner turf routes, horses breaking from posts 1-6 have won 19 of 21 races, with outside-drawn horses a combined 2-for-42.
The inside two posts have been an advantage in dirt routes, winning five of the 10 races. The turf sprint rail has been bad as usual, winning just 1-for-16.
The 2020 Saratoga meet is off to a fast start. Handicappers who can follow the early trends have an opportunity to cash more tickets in the coming weeks. Best of luck and enjoy!
Noel Michaels has been involved in many aspects of thoroughbred racing for more than two decades, as a Breeders’ Cup-winning owner and as a writer, author, handicapper, editor, manager and promoter of the sport for a wide range of companies including Daily Racing Form and Nassau County Off-Track Betting.
He also is regarded as the leading source of news and information for handicapping tournaments and the author of the “Handicapping Contest Handbook: A Horseplayer’s Guide to Handicapping Tournaments”, which made his name virtually synonymous with the increasingly-popular tournament scene.
In addition to contributing to US Racing, he is also an analyst on the Arlington Park broadcast team.