by Jeremy Plonk
July 12, 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.
At the important boutique meets, it’s imperative for jockeys and trainers to get off to a fast start.
Given the relatively short nature of high-class racing meetings at tracks like Saratoga and Del Mar, which get underway this week, horseplayers long have long leaned on those jockeys and trainers who get off to a successful start to the meet. The thought is that momentum is important and time is short on correcting a lack of it.
I dialed up the Betmix database for the past 3 years at Del Mar and Saratoga, looking at the July starts for jockeys and trainers and how they corresponded over the course of the meeting (which ends on Labor Day at Saratoga and Del Mar). Jockeys and trainers were listed in 1-5 position in the standings for the July victories and for end-of-meet totals. In cases where trainers or jockeys tied for number of victories, they were listed in order of win percentage.
Trainer 2020 fast starts Saratoga: Christophe Clement, Chad Brown, Todd Pletcher, Mike Maker, Linda Rice
Trainer 2020 how they finished Saratoga: Todd Pletcher, Chad Brown, Christophe Clement, Mike Maker, Linda Rice
Jockey 2020 fast starts Saratoga: Jose Ortiz, Joel Rosario, Irad Ortiz Jr., Jose Lezcano, Tyler Gaffalione
Jockey 2020 how they finished Saratoga: Irad Ortiz Jr., Jose Ortiz, Joel Rosario, Luis Saez, Jose Lezcano
Trainer 2020 fast starts Del Mar: Peter Miller, Mike McCarthy, Peter Eurton, Richard Baltas, Eric Kruljac
Trainer 2020 how they finished Del Mar: Peter Miller, Phil D’Amato, Bob Baffert, Doug O’Neill, John Sadler
Jockey 2020 fast starts Del Mar: Umberto Rispoli, Flavien Prat, Abel Cedillo, Tiago Pereira, Juan Hernandez
Jockey 2020 how they finished Del Mar: Flavien Prat, Umberto Rispoli, Abel Cedillo, Juan Hernandez, Tiago Pereira
Trainer 2019 fast starts Saratoga: Chad Brown, Bill Mott, Linda Rice, Jeremiah Englehart, Todd Pletcher
Trainer 2019 how they finished Saratoga: Chad Brown, Todd Pletcher, Steve Asmussen, Jeremiah Englehart, Jason Servis
Jockey 2019 fast starts Saratoga: Jose Ortiz, Javier Castellano, Irad Ortiz Jr., Luis Saez, Jose Lezcano
Jockey 2019 how they finished Saratoga: Jose Ortiz, Irad Ortiz Jr., Javier Castellano, Joel Rosario, Luis Saez
Trainer 2019 fast starts Del Mar: Peter Miller, Doug O’Neill, John Sadler, Richard Baltas, Jeff Mullins
Trainer 2019 how they finished Del Mar: Doug O’Neill, Peter Miller, Richard Baltas, John Sadler, Phil D’Amato
Jockey 2019 fast starts Del Mar: Flavien Prat, Drayden Van Dyke, Rafael Bejarano, Ruben Fuentes, Joe Talamo
Jockey 2019 how they finished Del Mar: Flavien Prat, Drayden Van Dyke, Abel Cedillo, Joe Talamo, Ruben Fuentes
Trainer 2018 fast starts Saratoga: Chad Brown, Steve Asmussen, Bill Mott, Todd Pletcher, Joe Sharp
Trainer 2018 how they finished Saratoga: Chad Brown, Todd Pletcher, Rudy Rodriguez, Bill Mott, Steve Asmussen
Jockey 2018 fast starts Saratoga: Luis Saez, Irad Ortiz Jr., Ricardo Santana Jr., John Velazquez, Javier Castellano
Jockey 2018 how they finished Saratoga: Irad Ortiz Jr., Javier Castellano, Jose Ortiz, Manny Franco, Luis Saez
Trainer 2018 fast starts Del Mar: Jerry Hollendorfer, Peter Miller, Doug O’Neill, John Sadler, Phil D’Amato
Trainer 2018 how they finished Del Mar: Peter Miller, Doug O’Neill, Jerry Hollendorfer, Richard Baltas, Phil D’Amato
Jockey 2018 fast starts Del Mar: Flavien Prat, Drayden Van Dyke, Mario Gutierrez, Geovanni Franco, Tyler Baze
Jockey 2018 how they finished Del Mar: Drayden Van Dyke, Flavien Prat, Tyler Baze, Assael Espinoza, Heriberto Figueroa
At Saratoga, 11 of the 15 top-5 finishes the past 3 years were trainers who were among the top-5 fastest starters each meet. Trainer Todd Pletcher has improved his position in the standings, finishing better than he started, each of the past 3 years while top-5 in all lists. Chad Brown has held his position early and at meet’s end in each of the 3 years, winning the meet when off to a leading July and finishing second when second-best in July. As for the Saratoga jockeys, the same 11-for-15 record showed as to July fast starters remaining in the top-5 at meet’s end. Only once in the 3 years did the leading jockey after July hold on to win the riding title. Irad Ortiz Jr. didn’t lead after July in any of the last 3 seasons, but improved his standing all 3 years by meet’s end with 2 titles and a runner-up.
At Del Mar, a lower 9 of 15 top-5 finishes in the past 3 years were trainers who were among the top-5 fastest starters each meet. Trainer Peter Miller is notorious for fast starts here and rarely fades. Doug O’Neill’s barn each year finished better at meet’s end than in July, but volume speaks a lot to that over the meeting. Still, he’s not a fast starter. Among Del Mar jockeys, again only 9 of the top-15 spots at meet’s end went to riders who were top-5 through July. But at the very top, note the 1-2 jockeys after July have continued their dominance for the meet as 1-2 in the final standings.
Hot starters at Saratoga fared a bit better in sustaining their dominance than at Del Mar. At both venues, it’s better to jump off to a top-5 start than not, if you want to wind up in the top-5 on Labor Day. But it’s not by as dominant a margin as you might think (73% stayed top-5 in jockey/trainer standings at Saratoga, 60% at Del Mar). That you consistently see many of the same names in these top-5 lists summer after summer is no coincidence. And it’s significant that at both tracks you didn’t see a single meet titlist in either division who wasn’t among the top-3 in their respective ranks after July. So is a fast start at Saratoga and Del Mar imperative to success? I’d lean mostly true, and more so at Saratoga, after looking at the data.
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, check out each trainer or jockey’s individual performance early and late in the meet. Trainer Peter Miller at Del Mar has won 31% in July the past 3 years, and 23% the remainder of the meet. If you’re betting Miller, get down early in the season. On the flip side at Del Mar, trainer Victor Garcia goes from 5% starting slow in July to a whopping 29% in August through Labor Day.