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A quick and dirty survival guide to Saratoga’s meet

perfect spot to watch races
perfect spot to watch races
Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images

During the year there are a host of prime meets that draw the best jockeys, trainers, and horses. These meets include Keenland in the spring, Gulfstream in the winter and Del Mar out west. Most importantly, what top-level competition succeeds in doing is drawing the interest of horseplayers and racing fans from all over the world. This Friday marked the beginning of the 146th Saratoga summer meet, arguably the best meet in the country. Located in Saratoga Springs in upstate New York, the rickety old track serves a second function as summer antidote for Tri-State burn out. Both literately and figuratively, it is a great vacation spot for people trying to get away from the rat race of the 95 corridor and the heat and humidity of the Mid-Atlantic.

The meet began this Friday, July 18th and goes to September 1st. Traditionally the meet was held to 28 days in August but increasing demand saw the meet extent to 36 days. Then in 2009 the meet was again extended an additional 4 days to where it is now, a 40-day meet. There is also the benefit of only having to sit out only one ‘dark’ day, where there will be no racing. That day is Tuesday, where a vacationer can check out the many dinning, experiences all over the rustic town.

Travel from the city or the Garden State is relatively simple; I-87, takes you right there. The only sticky part may be getting to I-87 from wherever your proximity is. Basically if you can fill your tank with gas these directions will take care of the heart of the drive:

Follow signs for I-87 N/NY-17/Albany and merge onto I-87N/NY-17 N

Continue to follow I-87 N/ Partial toll road 118 miles

Take exit 24 to merge onto I-87N/I-90 E toward Albany/Montreal

Partial toll road 0.9 miles

Take exit 1N to merge onto I-87 N toward Albany International Airport/Montreal 25.1miles

Take exit 13N to merge onto U.S. 9 N toward Ballston Spa 4.7 miles

Turn right onto Lake Ave

For more specific directions from your location go to the NYRA website.

Once you’ve gotten settled; unpacked, walked around got lunch at the Seven Horse Pub and Restaurant or PJ’s Bar-B-QSA, its now time to get down to business.

The 40-day meet comprises 66 stakes races, 35 of which are graded stakes and of those there are 17 Grade 1 races. Many of which will be featured on added TV coverage either on NBC or Fox Sports One

The scheduled races on NBC will feature a host of Grade 1 races, races that will be ‘Win and you’re in’ qualifiers for the Breeders’ Cup..

Races shown on NBC

August 2nd

Whitney Handicap

Test Stakes

August 23rd

Travers Stakes

Ballerina Stakes

August 30th

Woodward Handicap

Forego Stakes

Fox sports ‘Jockey Club Tour’

July 20th

Coaching Club American Oaks

August 10th

Saratoga Special

August 17th

Sword Dancer Invitational

Some notable names scheduled to run in these races are some of the biggest in horse racing. That list begins with Wise Dan the reigning Horse of the Year. The seven-year-old gelding has won the prestigious award two years in a row as well as the Eclipse award for Champion Older Male and Champion Turf Male. In his last race, the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic, Wise Dan gutted out his 15th graded stakes victory, but not before suffering an intestinal injury that sidelined him for two months. Trainer Charles LoPresti has been pointing his horse to the FourStarDave Handicap schedule for August 8th.

The fillies and mares will be well represented, but there is one race that stands out, the Personal Ensign Stakes, scheduled for friday August 22nd. That race should feature a rematch between Princess of Sylmar and Close Hatches. In their last race Close Hatches’ persistence won her a G1 victory in the Ogden Phipps at Belmont Park, beating out Princess of Sylmar and Breeders’ Cup winner Beholder. The victory was a mild upset as Close Hatches was the third choice in the betting. Last year it was Princess of Sylmar who went on a tear after winning the Kentucky Oaks at odd of 38-1. However the coup de grace came later that year in the Beldame when she beat the very classy Royal Delta.

As for the older males in the handicap division, fans can look for horses to emerge out of the Whitney Handicap to prep for the Woodword Stakes, which takes place on the last full weekend of the meet. There are a handful to top quality older horses like Will Take Charge, Lea, and Itsmyluckyday, but they will all be trying to knock off one horse. After his impressive victory in the Met Mile, Palace Malice is looking to put a stranglehold on this year’s Horse of the Year prize with a strong showing at Saratoga.

Then of course there are the three-year-olds and the Jim Dandy/Travers Stakes races. Leading the pack for early nominations of the Midsummer Derby’ is Belmont Stakes winner Tonalist. Among other names, Wood Memorial winner Wicked Strong, and Kid Cruz. Kid Cruz may be a late blooming sleeper in this year’s three-year-old class. The deep closing son of Lemon Drop Kid, followed up his win in the Easy Goer Stakes with a victory in the Grade 3 Dwyer.

In addition to stakes races there will be numerous top quality allowance races serving as stepping stones to stakes races as well as prep races for many stake level horses. There will also be the added attention given to the two-year-olds in maiden special weights. Part of the lure of these races is that any race can produce a future Breeders Cup winner, or more importantly a Kentucky Derby winner. Watching a future superstar horse win his or her very first race is akin to randomly sitting in on Lebron James in High School or Yasiel Puig playing on a minor league team.

As usual the jockey colony will be the toughest in the country. This year will feature international superstar Frankie Dettori who will fulfill a lifelong dream of riding at Saratoga. He should only help to sharpen the focus of some of the other top jockeys who consistently ride there as well as some new shooters.

Some of the new jocks coming up are the Ortiz’s, brothers Jose and Irad, both have had excellent years wining 20% of their races, mostly downstate. Taylor B Rice is another new name but one with a long history in the game. Taylor is the niece of trainer Linda Rice who in 2009 became the first woman to win the Saratoga training title. A year ago Taylor hadn’t even taken her first mount, yet after a strong showing at Belmont Park she is likely to get a generous share of mounts.

As for the journeymen jockeys they have earned the right to ride the best horses in the most lucrative situations. Those jockeys include Joel Rosario, Julien Leparoux, Edgar Prado, JR Velazquez and last years top jock at the Spa Javier Castellano.

Last year Javier Castellano took down the top spot, winning the meet with 66 victories in 322 starts. That was also good for a 20 percent win rate, which was good enough to edge JR Velazquez and Joel Rosario who were both at 19 percent.

As for the trainers, Todd Pletcher won last years meet in his usual dominating fashion. In 2013 he sent out an overwhelming number of horses. All in all Todd Pletcher saddled 131, a distant second was Micheal Maker at 88. Although he can say that he did have a higher rate of return than Maker. Last year a two dollar bet for a Pletcher horse averaged eight dollars return whereas if you only bet Maker horses you were cashing somewhere around the seven dollar mark.

Looking for quality over quantity there are a couple of trainers who lay in wait and strike with a nice price horse in the bigger races. Bill Mott and Barclay Tagg are always good trainers to key an eye on. Looking back at last year, of the top trainers Christophe Clement’s 14 percent strike rate was good for a return of $16.70.

Not the patient ‘big strike’ type and want to go to the windows often, then Chad Brown may be your guy. The former prodigy of Bobby Frankel nosed out the mighty Todd Pletcher last year winning 28 percent to Pletchers 27. Chad Brown comes into this years meet red-hot. On July 6th at Belmont, Brown took down the double of the Suburban Handicap and the Belmont Oaks Invitational, good for a return of $333 on a two dollar bet. He also currently has won at Parx down in Bensalem Pennsylvania an insane 11 of his last 12 races. And it doesn’t stop there, on Saturday, he is scheduled to send out Alterite: the probable favorite in the Diana Stakes, the first Grade 1 race of the meet.

If you’re more of a logical probability bettor then you’re going to want to go with something like postpositions. If that is the case than the 4 and 5 post in dirt races is your game. Last year on the dirt in sprint races, post positing 4 won 20 percent of the time. This is 5 points better than the second highest, post 8 which came in at 15 percent. What is even more astounding is that the 8 post only ran half the races of the 4, all other posts were around 12 percent and no better than 14 percent (post 6).

In terms of two turn route races post 5 is your spot. Post 5 in routes won an amazing 11 out of 43 races, good for 26 percent, that would be considered a freakish outlier if not for the 20 percent of post 2. You may want to avoid the 1 post as that spot suffered with only 2 wins in 44 races.

For the turf races, there are two alternating courses to follow; the Mellon turf and the Inner turf. The Mellon turf is obviously the wider course and for that reason all of the turf sprints take place there. Once again the 4 post was the place to be, there were 12 winners in 61 races, good for 20% of the time. Surrounded by the 4 post was a mediocre showing of no greater than 12%, which went to post 7. Although the 8 spot hit at 18% with 9 wins out of 50 races. For the route races on the Mellon turf the 1 and 5 were tied at 22%. The success of the one post was a bit of a surprise, but with only 40 races as a sample it may have been an anomaly. On the inner turn the inside is where you want to be. The 1 post, and the 3 post did very well, both over 15 percent.

Good Luck

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