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Five Things to Watch This Week at Saratoga

by Jeremy Plonk

July 8, 2019

Saratoga opens its doors this Thursday as it has since 1863, just months after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued by Abraham Lincoln. Even Honest Abe would admit a lot has changed at the Spa, including an eighth week of racing in 2019. The one-time “August place to be” is now the July 11 through September 2 place to be. That means there’s more time to enjoy the iconic little town that’s booming in development … and more betting discipline needed for horseplayers.

Each Monday of the Saratoga and upcoming Del Mar seasons, I’ll use this blog space to give you 5 things to look forward to in the upcoming week at each boutique meet. They’ll be handicapping and wagering-centric, not promotions and news bytes. If you’ve followed my work at Keeneland, you’ll know what’s in store. The powerful Betmix database will help drive us toward future plays at Saratoga and Del Mar.

Here’s what to watch during opening week at Saratoga 2019:

1. Rookie ‘Insight’ Overblown: Since 2013, first-time starters win 10% overall at Saratoga in 2-year-old maiden races while those juveniles with experience have a win rate nearly 15%. The ROI is negligibly better with the experienced horses as well. Note that the average payoff in 2-year-old races at Saratoga is about a half odds-point higher than all local races (or $1 more on average return). First-time starting 2-year-olds as favorites win 32% at the Spa since 2013, the same number as favorites overall in all races. But note Todd Pletcher hits 41% with debut 2-year-olds who are favored, one of the few places money has spoken the right language.

2. Shanghai’d Pedigree Plays: High-profile sires like Tapit, Into Mischief and Malibu Moon put up numbers on the Saratoga main track last summer, but weren’t extraordinary by percentages. It’s Shanghai Bobby offspring who merit a blind bet after going 8: 5-1-2 last summer on the Spa dirt (all sprints). Three of those winners went off 12-1 or more! Violence was a rock-solid 47% in the exacta with his offspring on the Spa dirt last summer. Also note Bustin Stones babies were 8-18 in the exacta with 4 wins among the NY-breds, while on turf Kantharos was quietly stout along with Majesticperfection outside of the more traditional big-name sires.

3. Most Trusted Rider: The only jockey in the colony to show a positive ROI riding favorites last summer was Joel Rosario, who went 20: 8-6-3 for a $1.10 return on each $1 bet. That’s 40% wins and 70% in the exacta when teamed with the top horse. The Ortiz Brothers combined were 31% wins and 52% in the exacta by comparison when riding the chalk.

4. Rudy & Mott Don’t Start Hot: During opening week of the 2018 meet, Rudy Rodriguez (0-11) and Bill Mott (1-13) struggled. But they wound up third and fourth in the trainer’s standings at season’s end with 14 and 13 wins. During the past 3 opening weeks at Saratoga, Rodriguez has gone 2-25 and Mott 3-34.

5. Monmouth Mayhem: Horses last prepped at Monmouth were 15-for-31 in the exacta on the Saratoga dirt last summer, including a $1.77 win ROI for each $1 bet (just under 20% wins). Before you scream about it being Jason Servis horses, hit pause. He ran only 2 at the meet on dirt via Monmouth and ran second with both. In fact, of the 15 exacta finishers, 11 came from different barns. On turf, the Monmouth runners were far less effective last summer at Saratoga (only 22% in exacta).