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Bet This, Not That: Saratoga trainer angles for 2016
Originally published in the Saratoga Player’s Guide on July 15.
There are many people who feel that the summer doesn’t officially begin until the first race of the Saratoga meet. For them, the summer solstice will occur Friday, July 22, at approximately 1 p.m. Eastern. And who can blame them? Each year, the best horses in the country are lured to the “Graveyard of Favorites,” and horseplayers welcome the big fields with quality horses and juicy payouts.
For many owners and trainers, winning at Saratoga is a goal, and success at the seven-week meet can make their year. Of course, winning at Saratoga is not easy – just ask the connections of American Pharoah – and some trainers regularly are more successful there than others.
DRF Formulator gives you access to all of a trainer’s runners over the past five years, so let’s use Formulator to look at areas where trainers have been most successful recently at Saratoga. Which are the best betting opportunities, and which are best to avoid? Below are a few of our favorites, and at the bottom of this article, you’ll find a code to try Formulator to find your own attractive betting opportunities.
◗ Bet This: Barclay Tagg with first-time starters. What got into Tagg at Saratoga in 2015? He had a strong meet from limited starters, going 19-7-2-3 for a $4.52 return on investment with all runners at the meet. The real story, though, is what he did with firsters, as he was 5-4-0-0 for an eye-popping $11.70 ROI. I can’t imagine he’ll maintain a strike rate of 80 percent, but I wouldn’t be shocked if he had a few ready to run a big race on debut at the Spa this year.
◗ Bet This and Not That: John Terranova on a streak. Terranova has had good success at the Spa over the last five years, winning at a 17 percent clip with more than 150 starters and returning a nice $2.57 ROI with all runners. And there arguably is no trainer more streaky than Terranova at the Spa, so you definitely want to catch him when he’s on the right side of the streak and avoid him when he’s not.
For instance, in 2011, he started the meet 3 for 12 and then lost his last 17 races. In 2012, he lost his first 13 but then ended the meet 6 for 19. In 2013, he began 4 for 12 and ended 1 for 12. In 2014, he had a 12-race losing streak sandwiched between a 4-for-16 beginning and a 2-for-3 end. And last year, he started on fire, going 5 for his first 12 with winners who paid $8.10, $21.60, $24, $27.60, and $49.20 before ending the meet with just one win in his last 24 starts.
◗ Bet This: George Weaver in maiden special weights. Like Terranova, Weaver has been a profitable bet at Saratoga over the past five years, returning $2.41 for each $2 win bet on all of his runners in that time. His 2015 meet, though, was essentially the mirror image of Terranova’s as he started quite slowly (2 for 33) before ending the meet on fire (10 for his last 35). Four of those 10 wins late in the meet came with maiden runners not in for a tag, including first-time starter Play Unified, who paid $43.60 to win. That’s not the only big-priced maiden winner Weaver has had at the Spa over the past five years, and his median winner is $11 with these runners, compiling a 77-16-9-9 record and yielding a $3.20 ROI. Interestingly, that success crosses all surfaces, distances, and ages.
◗ Bet This: Jeremiah Englehart. Sometimes overnight success takes 11 years. The son of longtime New York trainer Chris Englehart, Jeremiah has been winning at a high rate both at Finger Lakes and on the New York Racing Association circuit since he saddled the first horse in his own name in 2003. On the national scene, he’s still best known for Ria Antonia’s win via disqualification in the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Fillies, but Englehart is a young trainer on the rise.
Last year, he had more starters and winners than he’d ever had before, and he won with 27 percent of all starters. But at Saratoga, success was slow to come for him. From 2003-13, he went winless at the Spa, compiling a record of 58-0-8-7 over 11 meets. That all changed in 2014, when he notched five wins; his meet last year was even better, with 11 wins.
Over the past two Spa meets, Englehart has compiled a 67-16-9-4 record – a 24 percent win rate – and returned a staggering $4.50 for each $2 win bet. Those wins came at a variety of class levels, distances, surfaces, and odds, so be sure to take an extra long look at his runners this summer. He seems to have figured out how to win at Saratoga, and I doubt that will change in 2016.
◗ Not That: Wesley Ward. Ward has made quite a name for himself all over the world, winning races at the Breeders’ Cup, at Keeneland in baby races by the bunches, and most recently at Royal Ascot. Success at Saratoga has been harder to come by for Ward, though, especially in recent years. Ward has won at a 22 percent rate with all of his starters in North America over the past five years, but he’s won at less than half that rate at the Spa in that time, going 186-18-33-19 and returning just a $0.97 ROI.
The point here is not that Ward’s horses don’t run well at Saratoga; he’s won at nearly 10 percent there and hit the board with nearly 40 percent of his starters. The point to remember is that they rarely provide fair value. Consider this: 112 of those 186 runners went off at 5-1 or lower, and just 13 percent of those horses won, returning just 45 cents on the dollar. At odds of 10-1 and up, it’s even more grim: 42-1-6-0 and just a $0.74 ROI.
Carryovers from last year
A few of the angles we highlighted last summer performed well enough that we want to keep an eye on them this year as well.
◗ Not That: Todd Pletcher’s older first-time starters.
What we said last year: Pletcher’s success at Saratoga with horses making their first career start is widely known, but bear in mind that that success applies to his juveniles. Over the past five years, Pletcher is winless with horses ages 3 or older making their debut at the Spa (16-0-2-3), and 11 of those went off at 6-1 or lower. His reputation assures that these horses get overbet, and even if he does win with one of these at this meet, you can be assured it will be an underlay.
How the angle performed last year: 4-0-0-0. Again, this angle was one to avoid as none of the four entered could finish in the money, all were beaten by at least three lengths, and two of them were lower than 3-1.
◗ Bet This: Chad Brown turf maidens off long layoffs.
What we said last year: Brown’s success with debuting juveniles going long on the Saratoga grass is well documented, and while the $2.88 ROI is great (42-11-12-6 record), the secret appears out, and his 2-year-old first-time starters on turf likely will be bet early and often at this meet. Brown, though, is just as adept at getting turf maidens to win off layoffs of 100 days or more, going 18-8-3-1 for a $2.91 ROI over the past five years at Saratoga with those returnees.
How the angle performed last year: 3-1-0-0, $3.73 ROI. The lone winner here paid a square price, $11.20, and although the other two didn’t hit the board, both ran fourth, and one was beaten less than two lengths at 9-1.
◗ Bet This: Chad Brown maidens on dirt.
What we said last year: Brown’s reputation for live turf runners means that those runners are no longer likely to be overlooked in the wagering. However, that reputation means that some of Brown’s maidens might be undervalued on dirt, even though those runners have been just as successful at the Spa over the past five years, going 59-15-9-9 and returning a $2.52 ROI.
How the angle performed last year: 14-4-3-3, $1.84 ROI. The ROI dipped a touch, but 29 percent winners and 71 percent in the money are both strong stats, and the three who ran second were all square odds (4-1, 5-1, and 7-1).
◗ Not That: Chad Brown in graded stakes on dirt.
What we said last year: Brown is still looking for his first graded stakes win on dirt at Saratoga as he’s winless with 14 starters in those races, with a single second-place finish and a lone show finisher. Moreover, Brown has a 36-1-3-3 record and a $0.14 ROI over the past five years in all Grade 1 stakes on dirt, and he’s riding a losing streak of 33 starts in those races.
How the angle fared last year: 3-0-0-0. Oddly, all three ran sixth, beaten at least six lengths, and March was bet down to 2-1 in the Amsterdam Stakes.
◗ Bet This: Bill Mott juveniles in dirt-sprint maiden special weights in their second career start.
What we said last year: It’s become common knowledge that Mott’s juveniles at Saratoga need a start. In fact, he’s winless in dirt-sprint maiden special weight races at the Spa with juveniles over the past five years (74-0-6-7). In the second start, those horses can improve; he’s 10-3-1-1 for a $3.21 ROI at the Spa with juveniles in dirt-sprint maiden special weights in the second start.
How the angle performed last year: 1-0-1-0. Only one runner, but she ran a good second as the 2-1 favorite. Oh, and the Mott drought with juveniles debuting in dirt sprints continued as he went 6-0-1-1 with those runners.
◗ Not That: Mott juveniles in turf-route maiden special weights in their second career start.
What we said last year: That second-start improvement for juveniles has not carried over to turf-route maiden special weights at Saratoga. With those runners, he’s 23-1-1-5 with a $0.33 ROI, with 10 of the 22 losers going off at less than 5-1.
How the angle performed last year: 1-0-1-0. Another sample of one, a filly named Ribelle who ran second as the 8-5 favorite. It could be a case of the public expecting this kind of improvement from these Mott runners and thus betting them into underlay territory.
◗ Bet This: Tony Dutrow juveniles in their second career start.
What we said last year: Dutrow has a remarkable 130-36-23-16 record for a $2.56 ROI with all runners at Saratoga over the past five years. His stats with juveniles making their second career start there have been insane: 10-6-1-1, $6.01 ROI. Yeah, it’s a small sample, and yeah, it’s probably not sustainable, but wow.
How the angle performed last year: 1-0-0-1. Okay, this angle may be a tough one to sustain, partly because it will be difficult to find runners to match it. However, Dutrow had another strong meet last year, going 20-7-6-4 and returning $3.29 for each $2 win bet. That marked Dutrow’s eighth straight Spa meet with a winning percentage above 20 percent and his fifth straight with an ROI above $2.
◗ Bet This: Michael Matz in turf races.
What we said last year: Racing fans remember Matz best as the trainer of Barbaro, but horseplayers think of Matz as a better trainer on turf. In the past five years, Matz has a 14 percent win rate regardless of whether it’s a turf or dirt race, but his ROI on the grass is an even $2 compared with $1.36 on dirt. At Saratoga, Matz is 70-13-7-8 for a whopping $4.26 ROI on turf over the past five years. His turf runners at the Spa have been flat-bet profits in each of the past four meets, and seven of those 13 winners were double-digit odds.
How the angle performed last year: 15-0-2-1. Wow, this angle was our biggest swing and miss of the meet last year. However, he did run second by a head at 10-1, and even with the oh-fer last year, Matz’s ROI with all turf runners over the past five years at the Spa is still above $4, and the win rate is 17 percent. That’s enough to overlook the poor performance last meet, especially with his runners at nice odds.
◗ Not That: Linda Rice following a claim.
What we said last year: Rice won the Saratoga training title in 2009, the last time it was won by anyone not named Todd Pletcher. She’s also a savvy claiming trainer, having turned both Palace and Kid Cruz into graded stakes winners in recent years after claiming both off Bill Mott. Rice hasn’t fared nearly as well with recently claimed horses at Saratoga, going 32-1-6-5 for a $0.39 ROI over the past five years in the first start following a claim and even worse in the second start off the claim: 13-0-1-2.
How the angle performed last year: 1-0-1-0. Did Rice read the article last year? Claiming horses to run at the Spa seemed to be more of a focus for Rice in prior years, but she only had one starter, My Adonis, who ran second in his first start off the claim and then third in his second start. Still, her previous history with these runners makes me inclined to tread lightly.
◗ Not That: David Jacobson longshots on dirt.
What we said last year: Like Rice, Jacobson is an active claiming trainer, but his runners on dirt tend to run to their odds, at least at Saratoga. Over the past five years, he’s 72-3-9-10 for a $0.96 ROI there with all runners on dirt at odds of 5-1 or higher. Pay special attention to the odds of those horses making their first start for Jacobson following a claim; he’s 21-7-1-2 for a $2.70 ROI with ones less than 5-1 and 17-0-2-3 with those at higher odds.
How the angle performed last year: 28-1-3-9, $0.50 ROI. The lone winner in the sample barely qualified at 6-1, and considering that Jacobson went 29-7-4-5 at the Spa last year on dirt with horses bet below 5-1, it’s still worth watching the windows with his runners.
◗ Not That: Shug McGaughey with first-time starters.
What we said last year: McGaughey isn’t exactly known for winning with first-time starters, but he has won about 10 percent of the time over the past five years with all debuting horses. At Saratoga in that time, he’s just 44-1-6-7 for a $0.19 ROI with firsters. That lone win came from Honor Code, and he turned out to be pretty good, so pay attention if he does have a first-time starter run big in his debut at this meet.
How the angle performed last year: 5-0-2-1. Three for five in the money is actually very good for Shug. On Leave is the starter in this sample who perfectly illustrates the angle. She is a half-sister to four graded stakes winners, including Ironicus, and word was out before her debut, where she ran a solid second but never threatened the winner. For Shug, that was success, and On Leave got that maiden win two starts later. As the 2-1 favorite in her debut, On Leave provided value on every other filly in the race given McGaughey’s history with these runners at the Spa.
◗ Not That: D. Wayne Lukas with first-time starters.
What we said last year: Like fellow Hall of Famer Mott, Lukas horses making their debut at the Spa are almost an automatic toss. Over the past five years, he’s debuted an average of 10 horses per meet, and he’s only hit the board with an average of one of those per meet (50-1-0-4, $1.14 ROI). That winner, Optimizer, went on to win nearly $1 million. He won his debut at the Spa in 2011 going long on turf before becoming a graded stakes winner.
How the angle performed last year: 7-0-0-0. Not a huge surprise, considering all seven were higher than 10-1 and most were above 30-1. Still, none outran those odds as all were beaten at least eight lengths.
◗ Not That: Lukas in dirt sprints following a layoff of four weeks or more.
What we said last year: As a rule, you’ve been pretty safe ignoring Lukas runners in dirt sprints at the Spa over the past five years. He’s 129-4-10-11 with a $0.57 ROI in dirt races there going less than eight furlongs (126-2-10-11 with horses other than Strong Mandate), and he’s winless with all of the ones running off a layoff of at least four weeks: 40-0-4-4.
How the angle performed last year: 7-0-3-0. Three of seven in the exacta is quite solid, especially when you note that two of those were higher than 30-1. Lukas’s Spa meet was generally forgettable in 2015 as he compiled a record of 30-1-3-0, and the lone winner paid an even $10.
◗ Not That: Nick Zito with first-time starters.
What we said last year: In a bit of a recurring theme here, Hall of Famer Zito has also been quite unsuccessful with horses debuting at the Spa in recent years. In fact, his 51-1-0-6 record with those horses in the past five years looks eerily similar to that of Lukas, though Zito’s ROI is only $0.32. That lone win came for a tag, so he has not had a firster hit the exacta at Saratoga in a maiden special weight in the past five years (45-0-0-5).
How the angle performed last year: 11-0-0-0. Sure, none of these runners was bet very heavily, but nearly half were 15-1 or lower, and the best finish that any could muster was sixth place.
◗ Not That: Zito in turf races.
What we said last year: Sure, Zito isn’t really known as a turf trainer, but he’s averaged nearly 10 turf starts per meet at Saratoga over the past five years, going just 49-1-6-1 with a $0.52 ROI.
How the angle performed last year: 10-0-1-0. While he did have one hit the exacta, that one was beaten more than three lengths, and he had another finish fifth at 7-2.
◗ Not That: Zito adding blinkers.
What we said last year: In the past five years, Zito has added blinkers 10 times to horses at Saratoga. None of them won. None even hit the board. Sure, it’s not the biggest sample size, but the stat hints that the addition of blinkers could be a move made out of desperation for him, and I’d be hesitant to take too short a price on one of these.
How the angle performed last year: 3-0-0-0. Not much to say with this one, but this might be a good place to mention Zito’s performance with all runners at the Spa in 2015. He went 39-0-1-3, and eight of those runners were 5-1 or lower.
These are just a few examples of great bets to target as well as ones to avoid. Every day, at every track, you will find many examples of these kinds of great (or awful) opportunities. DRF Formulator gives you the keys to find these angles, and it could very well lead you to a winner who is overlooked by much of the betting public. Check out the different Formulator plans available, priced for every budget. Better yet, try it for yourself; get two Formulator cards for a penny by using code BETTHIS at checkout.
Hello Mike. Thank you for all the useful data. I would add "Not That" for Nick Zito on any of his entries. For the past couple of years his trainer stats have been dreadful overall. From a personal standpoint, I throw out any horse he enters. AS a suggestion to his owners, I would say to "find another conditioner for your horses".