09/09/2009 11:00PM

Saratoga leads the way with juveniles


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Consistently the best summer juvenile racing in the country takes place each year at Del Mar and Saratoga. Of that, there is little argument.

As to which track is tops, there is less consensus - though perhaps there should be. In studying the past performances of the winning juveniles at the tracks in 2007 and 2008 - the first two years of Polytrack at Del Mar - 2-year-olds that scored at Saratoga over the summer have generally outearned their Del Mar counterparts.

Here's a look at the numbers, starting with last year.

Bearing in mind that champions Midshipman and Stardom Bound raced at Del Mar in 2008 before going on to win the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and Juvenile Fillies, respectively, one might quickly conclude that the juveniles in California last year were superior.

From the standpoint of handling the Pro-Ride surface at Santa Anita, where the Breeders' Cup was held last year, they were. However, the long-term numbers tell another story.

Looking at all non-claiming races as well as claiming races with tags of $50,000 or more, either in or out of the maiden ranks, Del Mar-based juveniles currently have cumulative average earnings of $194,266. Saratoga runners, meanwhile, average $224,103 in earnings.

There is a larger discrepancy in the median numbers. The median for the Saratoga winners is $122,270, distancing the Del Mar median of $87,252.

The reason for the difference? Horses like Capt. Candyman Can, Pioneerof the Nile, Kensei, Charitable Man, Munnings, and Gone Astray winning straight maiden races at Saratoga - just to name five.

Those are some serious horses, to say the least. And Saratoga draws more fresh blood to race there than Del Mar. At Del Mar, the horses are mostly California-based year round.

The numbers from 2007 similarly favor Saratoga winners, although they were skewed in part by some California horses being shipped away from there to race over dirt at Saratoga, with trainer Bob Baffert's champion Indian Blessing being the most obvious example.

Looking at the same sample of runners - winners of non-claiming races and those that started for claiming prices of $50,000 or more - the Saratoga sample has a two-year cumulative average earnings of $316,952. The Del Mar group has a $185,811 average. The median earnings for the Saratoga winners are $133,438, compared to a $114,192 median for those winners from Del Mar.

Eventual Kentucky Derby winner Big Brown was the big winner at Saratoga at 2007, taking a maiden on the grass, while the richest earner to win a juvenile race at Del Mar in 2007 was Georgie Boy, hardly a fair comparison.

Looking at these numbers, as well as the accomplishments of the starters from the two tracks, Saratoga is at the head of the class when it comes to producing promising juveniles.

Many winners still looking for No. 2

In looking through the subsequent performances of these horses, one thing particularly struck me - more so than the discrepancy in earnings between the winners from the two tracks - that being how many winners from these tracks did not go on to win another race.

Of the 60 straight maiden winners at Saratoga last year, 33 have not yet won another race. That's 55 percent, a number I found shocking.

The numbers were similar at Del Mar, where 15 of the 26 straight maiden winners have not scored their second victory (58 percent).

What happened? Many were sidelined were injuries, and others simply didn't develop.

It was feast or famine, irrespective of whether a horse was on the East or West Coast.

Look for Spa winners on West Coast

Looking toward the future, it seems reasonable for Del Mar winners to fare well with the Breeders' Cup again on the synthetic Pro-Ride surface at Santa Anita this year.

But long-term, I'll be looking for Saratoga horses to become the better plays when they meet head to head in matchups on dirt.

Horseplayers also should keep a close eye on those horses from Saratoga that performed well on turf, if they head west to race on grass or on a synthetic track on the West Coast.

Maram, who won a maiden $75,000 race on turf in her debut at Saratoga last year, headed west and won the 2008 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf. And Pioneerof the Nile, who similarly won a turf maiden race at Saratoga last summer, went on to take the CashCall Futurity and Santa Anita Derby in California.

Anticipate similar results in 2009-2010.