You Can Beat Saratoga

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by Rich Nilsen

There are several facets of Saratoga that every handicapper should know, and there are some solid strategies that I recommend for beating the upcoming 2019 meet which begins earlier than ever this year, July 11, and runs through September 3.  If you apply these nine steps, you’ll be putting the percentages in your favor over 95 percent of the wagering public who have no game plan and approach each day at the Spa haphazardly.

 

Key # 1 – Understand How the Tracks Play

On most days the Saratoga main track plays very kindly to speed horses. It can be very difficult to make a wide move on the turn for home, sustain that run and get up for the win. The predominant speed bias, of course, is more prevalent the shorter the distance, but on many days, the tracks favors early speed or tactical speed in all of the dirt races.  For example, in 6 furlong races last year, 38% of the winners won gate-to-wire.  That’s a typical Saratoga meet where nearly 4 out of every 10 six furlong races are won on the front end.

On the Saratoga main track, making a three to four wide move around the far turn is very difficult for most runners to sustain.  Always be on the lookout for horses that suffer from that type of trip with the hopes of scoring with them at a price next time out. See Key #7 below.

In my opinion the two turf courses can be very inconsistent, especially from one year to the next. Just because the inner turf course favored speed and tactical speed in one mile races last year doesn’t mean that is going to happen this summer. In general, both turf courses give the edge to closers, but there are plenty of races and plenty of days when that is not the case.

ProfitWhether it is the weather or some other factor, the turf courses can suddenly begin to favor early speed and it is vital that the handicapper keeps their eyes open to this short-term bias that can last one week or more.  You can “make” your meet if you spot the turf bias early enough and capitalize.

Do beware of the inside posts in the 5 ½-furlong turf sprints. It is well known that the rail (one post) can perform very poorly in turf sprints. If the inside horses don’t break sharply and demonstrate good early speed, they can get shuffled back and subsequently boxed in during the cavalry charge to the turn.  As a result, middle posts are often the best draws in these swiftly-run, short races.

Tactical speed is also very important. One surprising trend three years ago was that closers fared remarkably well in these short turf sprints.  In fact, over half of the winners in 2016 were Pressers (mid-pack runners) or Sustained types (closers from the back.)  Watch closely in the first week or so to see how the turf sprints play.  It may not be what you expect.

Be alert because there is always a range of days at Saratoga when the speed bias not only disappears, but the track begins to strongly favor closers. This is one of the most important times of the meet for the serious player. Just like with the turf bias mentioned previously, if you catch on to this reverse bias early enough you could make your entire meet in a matter of a few days.  It will happen, because it seems to every year, so keep an eye out for it.

Understanding how these tracks play and staying alert for short-term changes to the predominant biases is critical for the Saratoga horseplayer.

The 9 Tips to Beating Saratoga by Rich Nilsen – click here to download

Other Handicapping Articles:

Horse for the Course

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About Editor

Rich Nilsen is a 16-time qualifier to the National Horseplayers Championship (NHC), an event he has cashed in four times. He was the first player to finish in the top 10 twice. He cashed on the NHC Tour for 2018 with a 19th overall finish. Rich was also a winner of a $24,000 package into Kentucky Derby Betting Championship I. A former executive with Brisnet.com, Rich is a graduate of the University of Louisville Equine Business Program and is founder of AGameofSkill.com, a site devoted to horse racing education and promotion.

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    Bruce

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