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Five Things to Watch This Week at Del Mar & Saratoga

by Jeremy Plonk

July 15, 2019

Del Mar brings the turf to the surf with Wednesday’s opening day card, while Saratoga’s spa presents its second of eight weeks also beginning Wednesday. Whether you prefer fish tacos or Shake Shack, there’s no reason you have to decide between these leading summer joints. Spot your plays wisely and you can enjoy both with discipline and precision. Here’s our handicapping hints for the upcoming days: 

Del Mar Handicapping Tips 

1. Trainer Bob Baffert dominated summer 2018 at Del Mar with debut runners, winning 11 of 15 bids. In fact, he won his first 8 maiden special weight dirt appearances with first-time starters. John Sadler won with 3 of 5 rookies at the meet, the only other barn than Baffert to debut more than 2 winners. 

2. Favorites won 40% on the dirt at Del Mar last summer, thanks in part to 54% winners in maiden special weight races and 45% winners in stakes. The other class categories were closer to a one-third percentile. Favorites on turf delivered only 26%. 

3. Last summer’s leading jockeys Drayden Van Dyke and Flavien Prat were successful with the expected leading barns, but also note Van Dyke’s dirt success with Michael McCarthy (7: 4-1-0) and Prat’s dirt record with Simon Callaghan (5: 3-0-1). 

4. Shippers who last raced at Belmont Park were the most successful out-of-towners, going 24: 7-6-1 for a $1.30 ROI for each $1 bet. That’s 29% wins and 54% in the exacta. 

5. The fast-starting opening week barn to watch is John Sadler. He’s gone 10-for-33 over the past 3 opening weeks at Del Mar during the summer meet. Also note that Sadler went 8-for-17 in Del Mar stakes last summer. 

Saratoga Handicapping Tips

1. Churchill and Monmouth shippers flexed their muscle. Belmont led 14-8 over Churchill in total wins opening week with Monmouth solid at 6. But Monmouth preppers won 40% (67% in exacta), while Churchill preppers won 20% of their starts; compare that to 8% overall for Belmont runners. 

2. Short-rest Linda Rice angle. The Belmont-prep exception was Linda Rice, whose runners from the Belmont meet went 5: 3-1-0 opening week and all ran back on 27 or fewer days’ rest. That angle probably can’t last long based on eligible runners and the calendar, but watch it for this week at least. 

3. Jeremiah Englehart is knocking on the door. A 10: 1-2-3 mark doesn’t look impressive in the win column, but Englehart was runner-up at 17-1 and third at 9-1 among his near-misses. That he was 4-for-5 in the money with horses 5-2 or less indicates he wasn’t misfiring by much. He had the most success with Luis Saez. 

4. Expect Bill Mott (1-10) and Rudy Rodriguez (0-6) to improve off their slow-as-predicted opening weeks. We mentioned going into the meet that Mott and Rudy have historically started slow and picked up steam as the meet progresses toward Top 3-4-5 finishes in the standings. Mott had 4 in-the-money finishes beyond his winner and hints at a quicker breakout perhaps. 

5. Junior Alvarado had an A+ week. For the rider to go 5-for-18 when his top barn Bill Mott was 1-for-7 in tandem opening week speaks to the breadth of his bookings. Two of those winners were horses coming off layoffs of more than 200 days. That’s done by a good agent in the a.m. Three of his 5 winners were 12-1 or more on the board, and don’t expect a big shift in public perception with elite riders galore in the colony.