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Updated on 09/18/2011 1:33AM
Inside look at leading trainers
It's sound counsel to be prejudiced in favor of well-connected horses at Saratoga. The only problem is the trainers in a typical race will read like a roll call of the sport's household names. What is one to do, for example, in a race where the contenders are being saddled by the likes of Pletcher, Frankel, Dutrow, Mott, Biancone, and McGaughey?
Knowledge of past tendencies can sometimes nudge handicappers in the right direction, so the following snapshots of the 22 trainers with at least five wins at last year's Spa session should come in handy.
Won his fourth straight Saratoga title (and fifth overall) with 22 winners last year, but what's really startling is that he amassed half that total in the first week! After a 10-for-22 start the barn went a comparatively modest 12 for 78 the next five weeks, so there was money to be made by betting against the high-profile outfit.
Surprisingly, only two of the winners were first-time starters - Velvet Cat, who was stabled locally, and Unobstructed View, stabled at Monmouth Park. More common were winning second-time starters, five overall.
Pletcher's current crop of juveniles is looking exceptionally strong. His first nine 2-year-olds to run at Belmont compiled a 6-2-0 mark.
This developed into an interesting situation when Asmussen, the second-leading trainer in North America in wins and earnings through the first half of 2006, recently decided not to contest a six-month suspension for a medication positive (mepivicaine, a local anesthetic) scheduled to run from July 10 to Jan. 10, 2007. Asmussen led the nation in wins three of the last four years, including a record 555 wins in 2004, and finished a strong second at Saratoga in 2005. His 35 percent win rate last year ranked second among all trainers with at least three wins, and he had nine juvenile winners.
Longtime assistant Scott Blasi is expected to be the trainer of record for most of Asmussen's horses. The transition is something handicappers need to monitor closely through the early stages of the meet.
Rick Dutrow Jr.
His total of 13 wins last year was really 16, but Juan Rodriguez was the trainer of record for three winners early at the meet when Dutrow was serving 60 days' worth of accumulated suspensions. He has been the leading or second-leading trainer in New York each of the past five years (a Dutrow-Pletcher quinella every year since 2001).
Nine of his winners last year were in claiming races, but he did send out 2-year-old first-time starters My Dynomite ($2.90) and Congo King ($16) in a three-day span. Watch for older claimers who have been rested since about mid-June: Holy Panache, Limero, and Fines Creek all fit that mold.
Has won or shared the Saratoga title eight times, the last coming in 2001 when he sent out a personal-best 22 winners. Only four trainers surpassed $1 million in earnings at Saratoga last year, and Mott was among them, thanks to wins by Sand Springs in the Diana and Sweet Symphony in the Alabama.
Don't worry about a lack of recent racing with returning grass routers. Shakespeare had been away more than 16 months when he won a turf allowance on opening day. Grand Reserve (eight-month layoff), Warrior Song (14-month layoff), and Steel Buns (58-day layoff) also won turf routes.
His 39 percent win rate (11 for 28) topped all Spa trainers last summer, and he went a very respectable 5-5-0 from just 18 starters two years ago. Continental Reins and Mayo Post posted two victories apiece last summer. Artie Schiller won the Bernard Baruch Handicap off a seven-week freshening, and Smokey Glacken won a classified allowance sprint off a two-month break.
Solid 10-10-6 from 44 starters last year, but capable of unreal meets such as 2001, when he went 10-2-2 from only 21 starters.
Five winners returned from some type of layoff last year, including Australian import Alinghi in the Ballston Spa Breeders' Cup, and Leroidesanimaux, who won the Fourstardave in course-record time. King's Drama won the Sword Dancer second start back from a layoff. Dirt layoff winners Aristocrat, Taygete, and Nose the Trade all showed several five-furlong workouts at regularly spaced intervals.
Doesn't get the hype heaped upon the designer barns, but he has been a mainstay on the New York circuit for 25 years. His fine record of 9-6-2 from 35 starters last year included four 2-year-old maiden winners - two first-time starters and two second-time starters. The new shooters, Mama Theresa ($6.30) and Secret Brook ($8.20), each came off a half-mile gate work over the track and won by lopsided margins of eight and 12 lengths.
Rick Violette Jr.
His quality work is familiar to year-round followers of New York racing, but the more casual Spa crowds sometimes overlook him. Gets horses ready to win off workouts: Among his nine meet wins in 2005 were first-time starters Saratoga View ($13), What's Your Edge ($10) and Philanthropy Lady ($6.70), and layoff winners Yolanda B. Too ($5) and Popular Delusions ($8.10).
This fixture on the Kentucky circuit won the 2004 Whitney with Roses in May, and developed male grass champion Kitten's Joy that same year. Eight wins last year included a division of the Yaddo Handicap with On the Bus for main clients Ken and Sarah Ramsey. Claiming-race winners Poco Bueno ($8.50) Got the Goods ($20.80), and Red's Honor ($22.20) were all taking class drops.
Third-generation horseman guided All Along through her international Horse of the Year campaign on the turf in 1983. His first-time starter Mayakovsky set a track record for 5 1/2 furlongs at the Spa in 2001. Since moving his stable to the U.S. in December 2000, his Grade 1 winners who have won stakes at Saratoga include Whywhywhy, Sense of Style, and Pomeroy, who won the King's Bishop at 3 and the A.G. Vanderbilt last summer. Other stakes winners last year were Henny Hughes (Saratoga Special) and Stream Cat, who won an overnight stakes on the turf for 2-year-olds as a maiden second-time starter. Biancone has won a juvenile stakes at Saratoga each of the last four years. It's still possible to get a price on Biancone: Stock Tip paid $110 last Aug. 1 when switched to the turf first time back from an 11-month layoff.
No trainer had a better extended run in New York than he did from the fall of 1994 through 2001, when he campaigned numerous multiple graded-stakes winners, including champion mare Hidden Lake (1997), and led the circuit in purse earnings three straight years. Entering the last two weeks of racing at Belmont, he was in the midst of a renaissance meet with 11 wins, and also tops in win percentage among all trainers with at least three wins.
Absolutely deadly with first-time turf runners: Among his seven wins at the Spa in 2005 were 2-year-old grass maidens My Interpretation ($8.50) and Immersed in Gold ($7).
Swept the Sanford, Saratoga Special, and Hopeful with City Zip in 2000, and won the 1998 Spinaway with Things Change, so respect any of her 2-year-olds that show ability from the start. Cornelio Velasquez rode five of her seven Spa winners last year, two of them aboard turf sprinter Second in Command.
Streaky trainer usually points for Saratoga, where he has saddled 23 winners the past three seasons. Seven winners last year were highlighted by Chowder's First ($29.80) in the John Morrissey Stakes, and two scores on the grass by Mountain Mambo ($13, $11.40).
All seven 2005 winners came on the turf, as one might expect. Three were shippers getting a trainer change - Silver Charades ($3.80) had been running at Woodbine for Malcolm Pierce; Insan Mala ($8.70) had been running at Churchill Downs for Elliott Walden, and won the Tenski Stakes; Naissance Royale ($11.20), a French import formerly trained by Christiane Head-Maarek, won the Grade 2 Lake Placid.
While he is traditionally strongest at Aqueduct, where he has captured six meet titles, Contessa entered the final two weeks of the Belmont meet leading the standings with 23 victories. Three of his six Spa winners last year were 2-year-olds - Oedipus O'Neal ($15) stretching out on turf, King Glacken ($6.30) in an off-the-turf sprint, and first-time starter Sleeping ($14.80).
Ever-dangerous with first-time starters, as he reminded bettors last year by sending out Discreet Cat ($12) on Travers Day. Also scored with 2-year-old newcomer Mystic Ruler ($13.40) on turf.
High-volume outfit had 421 winners in 2005, six of them coming at Saratoga, including first-off-the-claim triumphs by Jumpstarter ($14.20), Battle Hero ($20.60), and Maybry's Boy ($5.80). Also won a turf route with Lone Star Park shipper Princess Dee ($9.70) off a trainer change and a two-month layoff.
Tied for second with Bill Mott for second at the 1998 Saratoga session with 13 wins. Started off 1 for 19 last year, but closed strongly with five sprint winners during the final two weeks. Routinely equips his runners with mud calks and front bandages. Effective price-getting angle for years focuses on horses second time back from layoffs that are turning back in distance after prepping in a turf route.
D. Wayne Lukas
Trainer of 22 Eclipse Award winners holds many records that may never be broken, but nowadays his successes are mainly limited to designer meets such as Saratoga, where he saddled five winners in 2005, including eventual champion Folklore ($10.60) in the Adirondack Stakes on opening day. Maidens generally need a race or two before showing their best: Ex Caelis ($11.40) ran third in her debut before winning second out at the meet; Fast Deal ($8.50) graduated third time out, while adding blinkers.
Fourth-leading trainer in New York with 84 wins last year, at a strong 27 percent clip. Wins regularly with layoffs and recent takeovers, particularly older male claiming sprinters from the Southern California circuit owned by Roddy Valente. That pipeline produced two wins apiece last summer from Potrisunrise and Run Thruthe Sun on dirt, and one from Summer Service in a turf sprint.
Grandson of legendary Frank "Pancho" Martin is very capable with layoff turf routers, especially homebreds from Flying Zee Stables. Won dirt sprints last summer with Kohut ($7.80, $6.50) and Curly Kayo ($5.60), a pair of Calder shippers owned by Joel Sainer and previously trained in Florida by David Braddy.
Under-the-radar trainer showed a small profit with 80 Spa starters from 2002-04. Five wins last year included wins on back-to-back days by 2-year-old second-time starters Win McCool ($7) and Winning Minister ($7.60), who had both been hammered to 3-5 for their debuts at Belmont Park and ran third. Each had been given three workouts over the track.