by Jeremy Plonk
June 28, 2021
Welcome to a continuing handicapping series for our Monday blog space, “Monday Myths.” Each week I’ll use the power of the Betmix database to take common handicapping assumptions and either support or dispel them with data. Betmix data powers the 1/ST BET app and its features like Angler and Birddog give data-minded horseplayers a treasure trove of information in which to query your own curiosities.
Saratoga is the graveyard of favorites.
Long ago given the moniker “The Graveyard of Favorites,” Saratoga is where Upset beat Man o’ War in 1919 and Onion knocked off Secretariat in 1973. It’s a badge worn both of hope and fear, but is it accurate? Do favorites perform any better or worse these days at Saratoga than other tracks?
I dialed up the Betmix database for the past 5 years at Saratoga and corresponding time for tracks nationwide and within the NYRA circuit. In additional to the overall percentage of winning favorites, I included the $1 ROI on win bets on each favorite as well as a look by race class at Saratoga.
Nationally favorites won 38.1% overall with a $0.86 ROI for every $1 bet.
Belmont/Aqueduct favorites won 35.9% overall with a $0.85 ROI for every $1 bet.
Saratoga favorites won 33.7% overall with a $0.85 ROI for every $1 bet.
2016 Saratoga favorites won 35.3% with a $0.90 ROI for every $1 bet.
2017 Saratoga favorites won 31.6% with a $0.88 ROI for every $1 bet.
2018 Saratoga favorites won 30.2% with a $0.80 ROI for every $1 bet.
2019 Saratoga favorites won 38.1% with a $0.97 ROI for every $1 bet.
2020 Saratoga favorites won 32.7% with a $0.77 ROI for every $1 bet.
Maiden Claiming Saratoga favorites won 32.6% with a $0.87 ROI for every $1 bet.
Maiden Special Weight Saratoga favorites won 32.3% with a $0.83 ROI for every $1 bet.
Claiming Saratoga favorites won 33.1% with a $0.84 ROI for every $1 bet.
Allowance Saratoga favorites won 33.2% with a $0.86 ROI for every $1 bet.
Listed Stakes Saratoga favorites won 41.9% with a $0.94 ROI for every $1 bet.
Graded Stakes Saratoga favorites won 34.0% with a $0.77 ROI for every $1 bet.
Saratoga’s percentage of winning favorites the past 5 years has been 2.22% lower than its fellow NYRA circuit tracks and 4.43% lower than the national average during that same span. Only 1 meet in the past 5 years at Saratoga did favorites succeed at a level close to the national average, but never above. In all but one race classification (listed stakes races), Saratoga favorites win at more than 4% below the national average for all races.
The term ‘graveyard’ might be a folklore exaggeration, but the numbers certainly point out that favorites have struggled at Saratoga – even in recent times. Maybe they’re not Man o’ War and Secretariat, but-profile stakes stunners of more recent vintage include short prices coming up short like Sistercharlie, Shancelot and Midnight Bisou.
You can go into Betmix and run your own queries for a deeper dive into this theory and any that you can create. For instance, you can look to see which jockeys and trainers perform best with favorites at the Spa. Jorge Abreu (47%), Steve Asmussen (41%), Michelle Nevin (41%), Mike Maker (40%) and Wesley Ward (40%) were a surprising top-5 of the most reliable trainers with Saratoga chalk.