02/22/2010 1:00AM

Mid-term review

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Moving past the halfway point in several important winter race meets, we should take stock of what we know that could help us through the early days of spring.

Leaving Santa Anita and its synthetic Pro-Ride track for another day, we should know if any reliable track biases have been in play at Gulfstream, Aqueduct, Oaklawn Park, and Fair Grounds.

Are there red-hot or very cold trainers and jockeys? Have we seen any horses recently who we should keep in mind for comparison purposes?

Having reasonable answers to these questions should help boost our chances to complete a positive winter racing season. Here are my impressions, track by track, question by question.

Aqueduct

Track trends: There were a few days in January and a few recent cards when the inner track played to its historic inside speed bias. Yet, there have been many days when the track has been kind to wide rallying types and horses who stalk the pace from the outside. The causes are complex, but with every winter snowstorm there has been a corresponding thawing out period. Also, track officials have been applying more sophisticated track maintenance procedures that tend to nullify the traditional inside, early speed bias.

Hot and cold jockeys: Ramon Dominguez has been melting the New York snow with his 32 percent win rate. Well-traveled David Cohen has outperformed his pre-meet ranking and is delivering a positive return on investment with his 19 percent win rate. Both Cohen and apprentice jockey Angel Serpa have performed well enough to suggest that they will be here when the winter meet ends and the top riders come back from Florida. Meanwhile, jockeys Nazario Alvarado, Antonio Lopez, Alex Bisono, Eric Lopez, Rudy Rodriguez, Nelson DeSouza, and Tadious Simpson are a combined 8 for 232, which is under 3.5 percent.

Trainers: Todd Pletcher has been even hotter than Dominguez, here and virtually everywhere he has had horses this winter; while Steve Asmussen, Rick Dutrow, Kiaran McLaughlin, Mike Hushion, Anthony Dutrow, and Rick Violette Jr., all have been winning at more than 25 percent from at least 20 starters throughout the meet. By contrast, there are more than 80 trainers who have failed to win a race here from more than 500 combined attempts.

Key horses to watch for in recent company lines: This is not a horses to watch list, instead, the intent is to identify horses that should spike your interest when they show up in the company lines of horses you are looking at today. For instance, Smax won a $12,500 maiden claimer by 11 lengths on Feb. 14, and Reptilian Smarts, a frequent local winner, was most impressive scoring in a $25,000 claiming route on Feb. 14. Given their stellar performances, I would upgrade horses that made bids against them.

Gulfstream Park

Track trends: In Daily Racing Form's new DRF Weekend insert in Saturday editions, track correspondent Mike Welsch spelled out the way this track has been playing all season: "Tactical speed," Welsch reported. "Outside-running stalkers," he added. Also, as I have observed, front-running winners have been extremely scarce on the turf, regardless of the rail setting.

Hot and cold jockeys: There are no genuinely hot riders here this winter as the top Northern-based riders at Gulfstream seem to be spreading the wealth. Kent Desormeaux, however, coming off a a solid 2009 that included several outstanding rides on turf courses throughout the country, is struggling through a subpar meet.

Trainers: Pletcher, Anthony and Rick Dutrow, Ken McPeek, and Michael Maker are doing well, and newcomers Danny Miller and Nick Canani are winning at an outstanding 40 percent from limited starters. Miller trains for prolific horse owner Frank Calabrese, whose former trainer Wayne Catalano continues to do fine on his own. Among the disappointments so far is Hall of Famer Bill Mott, who usually clicks at 20 percent or higher and has been hovering near 10 percent.

Key horses to watch for in recent company lines: Eskendereya looked like a true 1 1/4-mile Derby type taking the nine-furlong Fountain of Youth on Feb. 20 with evenly paced quarter-mile splits en route to a terrific 106 Beyer Speed Figure. Munnings, on the comeback trail, was a tough customer in the Gulfstream Park Sprint Championship, and Stormy Ocean won a seven-furlong $75,000 maiden claimer as if he is at least an allowance horse. Again, horses that made bids against these three may deserve an upgrade.

Oaklawn Park

Track trends: There has been no noticeable, reliable track bias this year, although extreme fluctuations in weather, along with some snow, have had some effect on a handful of racing cards. For instance, on Feb. 13 it paid to be on the pace in every race.

Hot and cold jockeys: Corey Nakatani came to Oaklawn to rebuild his career and is riding very well; Calvin Borel and Abel Castellano are the only other jockeys on the grounds enjoying above-average seasons. Meanwhile, Joel Campbell, Belen Quinonez, Wade Wini, Tanner Riggs, Orlando Mojica, Flloyd Wethey Jr, Perry Compton, Benjamin Marcial, Bryan McNeil, Karlo Lopez, Ken Shino, and Dakota Wood are only 13 for their combined 451 mounts, or less than 3 percent.

Trainers: D. Wayne Lukas has re emerged as a major factor, while the ubiquitous Steve Asmussen always makes his presence felt. Others enjoying above-par meets include Bret Calhoun, David Vance, Ingrid Mason, Lynn Whiting, and Cindy Jones, who has replaced her retired husband Larry Jones. But Lynn Chleborad, Jorge Lara, Joseph R. Martin, David E. Whited, Randy L. Morse, Richard D. Jackson, Frank J. Kirby, Jeff Talley, and Charles L. Dickey, have struggled all season.

Key horses to watch for in recent company lines: Merkel won a restricted $7,500 claiming race as if he is worth $12,500. Margie Marie has won two races at the meet while moving up the ladder, and R Star was an impressive maiden winner. Again, it will be useful to upgrade horses that made bids against any of these three.

Fair Grounds

Track trends: There has been no consistent track bias in play, although similar to Oaklawn, there have been days when one running style dominated. For instance, Feb. 13 was all front-runners and pace-pressers, yet the next day, midpack closers and stretch-runners won all but one race. On the turf, a longtime trend continues: Horses with previous good local turf form or strong local turf works have had a distinct edge over newcomers.

Hot and cold jockeys: Shaun Bridgmohan and Robby Albarado are the only two riders clicking at 20 percent. Both have connections to top stables. Otherwise, Shane Sellers, on the comeback trail, has looked good on several occasions, while James Graham and Jamie Theriot annually finish this meet strong and are likely to improve on their modest 2010 stats. By contrast, Dustin Dugas has won only three races in 206 mounts; Chester Bonnet is 2 for 142, and Marion Brown is zip for 82.

Trainers: Steve Margolis has been on fire all meet, while Tom Amoss, Bret Calhoun, Cody Autrey, Eric Guillot, Ed Johnston, Wesley Hawley, Angel Montano, Bill Mott, and Victor Arceneaux are all clicking at more than 20 percent this season, and each has their own specific high-percentage plays. On the negative ledger are Frank Kirby, Charles Dickey, Nick Leggio, Randy J. Ellis, Ray Culotta, Don Cormier Jr., Delbert Cueva, Judy L. Behler, John Good, James Frierson, Harold Joseph, Paul B. Gary, Ronnie Averett, and Ronald Venable, who have collectively won only four races from more than 250 tries.

Key horses to watch for in recent company lines: Watz His Name won a $25,000 claimer on the turf Feb. 8 with a solid 89 Beyer. Equally impressive was Outfitter, winner of a modest $15,000 claiming sprint on Feb. 13. The next day, Backtrack earned an above-average 78 Beyer winning a $25,000 maiden claimer.

To complement these facts, I strongly urge players to give a close look to the track profiles in this publication as well as the analyses provided by DRF track correspondents in DRF Weekend.