Saratoga Betting Preview
July 19, 2012
By Mike Dempsey
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Off to the Spa
Summer can officially commence starting on Friday as Saratoga opens its doors for the 144th time, a 40-day meeting that will offer huge purses, with even bigger wagering pools that will have horseplayers betting six days week, the only break in the action coming on Tuesdays.
With the slot machines at the Aqueduct casino humming, the purses at the Saratoga meeting are going to see a big increase from a daily average of $670,000 up to nearly a $1 million a day this summer.
There are 54 stakes on the calendar, and many of the top horses, jockeys, trainers, and owners will be seen at the Spa this summer.
The first Grade 1 of the summer comes on Saturday when a field of six three-year-old fillies will line up in the $300,000 Coaching Club American Oaks at 1 1/8 miles on the main track.
Tom Albertrani will saddle Mother Goose (G1) winner Zo Impressive, who is the 2-1 morning line favorite.
Her main rival will be Black Eyed Susan (G2) winner In Lingerie, who has won three of her four starts for last year's top Spa trainer Todd Pletcher.
Pletcher set an all-time record last summer with 38 winners from his 149 starters, with his runners earning more than $3 million.
Completing the field in the CCA Oaks are Questing (3-1), Disposiblepleasure (4-1), Yara (15-1), and Funny Proposition (8-1).
The highlight of the summer meeting is the $1 million Travers Stakes (G1) for three-year-olds which will be run on Aug. 25.
Travers Day is always one of the best wagering days of the summer. Supporting the Travers are the $500,000 King's Bishop (G1) for three-year-old sprinters, the Test (G1) for three-year-old filly sprinters, and the $250,000 Ballston Spa (G2) for turf fillies and mares. The Travers will be broadcast live by the NBC Sports Group as one of five live "Summer at Saratoga" shows that start on Aug. 11 and go through September 1.
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So how are we going to pad our bankroll at the Spa this summer? Here is a look at some of the key players who will be competing at Saratoga:
Todd Pletcher: After a rather slow 2009 Spa meeting where he won "just" 19 races and had a win clip of a substandard (for him) 14%, he has come back strong the past two summers. He won 36 races from 133 starters in 2010, and then broke his all-time mark by coming up with 38 winners last year from 149 starters, winning at a 26% clip. His juveniles are always tough, winning at a 24% clip overall and at a 25% clip with two-year-old first time starters dating back three years at the Spa. The only problem is they usually get too much attention at the betting windows. Pletcher only won 14 races at the recently concluded Belmont Park meeting for fifth in the standings. That indicates to me he is getting his stock ready for yet another huge Saratoga meeting.
Chad Brown: The former Bobby Frankel assistant had a great Spa last summer, winning 22 races from 75 starters, good for a 29% win clip. In 2010 he won at a 30% clip, hitting with 17 of 56 starters. He is equally good on turf and dirt, and his two-year-olds are usually cranked up and ready to go. His runners tend to be played as well, his average win payoff the past three years is $8.74 (By comparison Pletcher comes in at a rather chalky $7.08).
Bill Mott: The hall of fame trainer was fourth in the standings last year with 14 winners from 81 starters. He does his best work in route races, particularly turf. Mott is not known to win often with first time starters, hitting at just a 5% clip overall dating back three years. However, when he has a precocious firster, beware. Don't forget back in '07 the barn won with six debut runners at the Spa.
Steve Asmussen: After winning just seven races in 2010, Asmussen came back with a strong 2011 meeting, winning 17 races from just 51 starters, with 63% of his runners finishing in the money. Over the past three summers the barn has won 37 races, with 17 of the wins coming with juveniles. Look for his runners in dirt sprints, which account for 28 of his 37 wins. His "go to" jockey last summer was Julien Leparoux, who rode a dozen winners for the barn.
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The High Percentage Outfits
Just because a trainer won at a high percentage last year does not mean we will see a repeat. A good example is Linda Rice, who became the first women to win a Saratoga training title in 2009. Last year she battled for the Belmont Park spring meeting title with Pletcher, and then her horses really came up empty at Saratoga where she won with just 4 of 71 starters.
A few trainers that are likely to hit at above the 20% clip this summer include Rudy Rodriguez, Tony Dutrow, Kiaran McLaughlin, Graham Motion, and Steve Asmussen.
Low profile barns that had a good meeting last year that bear watching again this summer include Gary Guillo (13-4-3-3) and Phil Serpe (37-7-2-8).
Who are a few trainers to avoid? Over the past three seasons runners from these barns are close to auto toss as we get: Patrick Kelly (1 for 83), Randi Persaud (1 for 43), Scott Schwartz (0 for 43), John Toscano (1 for 44) and Steve Margolis (1 for 31).
With Joel Rosario shifting his tack from Southern California to the Big Apple last month, the Saratoga jockey colony is the deepest we have ever seen. Ten of the top dozen jockeys in money earned so far in 2012 will be riding full time at Saratoga.
Last year's leading jockey John Velazquez is still about a week away from returning to the irons due to a broken collarbone suffered in a spill at Churchill Downs in June, which should open up a few mounts from top barn's like Todd Pletcher to other jockeys early in the meet.
Javier Castellano won six races for Pletcher last summer at the Spa and figures to pick up some extra mounts during the opening week of the meeting with Velazquez out. Ramon Dominguez was 0 for 9 for Pletcher last season but also figures to pick up a few mounts, as will Rosario.
My prediction for this meeting will be Castellano winning the title, followed by Dominguez, Velazquez, and Rosario.
Jockeys to follow on longshots include Mike Luzzi, Eddie Castro, and Edgar Prado.
One of the best combos last summer was when Chad Brown and Ramon Dominguez teamed up. The duo won with seven of 17 starters.
Summer at Saratoga
There will be plenty of national television coverage from Saratoga this summer on NBC and the NBC Sports Network.
"Summer at Saratoga" was well received last summer and is back with five live telecasts which will include many of the top stakes run at the Spa:
Aug. 11 (6:00 -7:00 ET)
NBC Sports Network
$500,000 Fourstardave Handicap (G2)
Aug. 12 (6:00- 7:00 ET)
NBC Sports Network
$200,000 Adirondack (G2)
$200,000 Saratoga Special (G2)
Aug. 18 (5:00-6:00 ET)
NBC Sports Network
$600,000 Alabama (G1)
$600,000 Sword Dancer Inv. (G1)
Aug. 25 (4:00-6:00 ET)
$1 million Travers (G1)
$500,000 King's Bishop (G1)
$500,000 Test (G1)
$250,000 Ballston Spa (G2)
Sept. 1 (5:00-6:00 ET)
$750,000 Woodward (G1)
$500,000 Forego (G1)
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