This week kicks off the seven week journeys that are Saratoga and Del Mar, arguably the two most popular race meets in North America. The attendance and handle at these meets is staggering, and they draw the best horses, trainers and connections in North America together at opposite ends of the country.
Saratoga celebrates its 150th anniversary this year in Saratoga Springs, New York. This meet is dominated by Todd Pletcher, Chad Brown and high quality stakes horses that fill the races day in and day out. A handicapper must deal with all sorts of races at Saratoga from 2-year-olds and steeplechases to turf sprints and marathons. The highlight of the meet is the Travers Stakes for 3-year-olds, but each day of the meet has a different stakes race. This makes the meet ultra-competitive and desirable for gamblers.
Del Mar, like Saratoga, is high quality racing, but it isn’t quite as flush with invaders. Del Mar is simply the jewel of California racing. Situated between the I-5 and the Pacific Ocean, Del Mar is the absolute picture of beauty on earth. White sandy beaches serve as a backdrop for full fields of fast horses. Del Mar doesn’t offer as much variety as Saratoga, but on so many levels nothing beats hard knocking California racing. The meet is highlighted by the Pacific Classic for older horses, which this year will be contested by Game on Dude, currently one of the two favorites for horse of the year. Wise Dan being the other favorite in my mind and he will contest the Fourstardave Handicap at Saratoga at the end of July. Del Mar offers the most playable polytrack racing as well as some of the fairest turf racing in North America. The track where the turf meets the surf truly is a resort for racing.
From a gambling perspective each meet offers its own unique opportunities and challenges. Starting with Saratoga, the $250,000 guaranteed Pick-4s offered on weekends seem like good value wagers. Even though we still have a $1 minimum wager in Canada, the wide open races and large pools make even the simplest of combinations worthwhile to have. According to some, Saratoga does become quite predictable, but the payoffs always seem to be good.
The same trainers, jockeys and patterns win every year. Some elite horsemen people plan their whole racing strategy around the Saratoga meeting and have to be respected just for that reason. David Jacobson and Rudy Rodriguez, who dominate New York racing 10 months a year, become mere mortals in the summer sun of the Spa. Nick Zito, Linda Rice and Jason Servis are all trainers who have good numbers throughout the year but who are really worth second looks at Saratoga.
The hottest rider on the planet, Joel Rosario, should be the rider to beat in the jockey race, but John Velazquez and Javier Castellano should be productive as well with backing of trainers Todd Pletcher and Chad Brown. Rajiv Maragh and Luis Saez would be two lesser known jockeys who deserve respect as well. Saratoga requires time to handicap and a dedicated strategy. It is not a track you can “fly by the seat of your pants” through. It commands respect and careful planning, but finding a few diamonds in the rough at this meeting can become very profitable very quickly.
Del Mar is a wide open meet from a wagering standpoint and the best value wager has to be the Players Pick 5. With a takeout of only 14%, it offers extreme wagering value. On Thursday July 18, five logical horses came in including three favorites, and it paid $1,200. The Players Pick 5 always begins in the first race and it is generally comprised of a good combination of short and long fields on both poly and turfs.
Peter Miller is the defending leading trainer and he is geared up for another good meet. The high percentage barns really shine through at Del Mar. Examples of these would be Bob Baffert, Jeff Mullins, Mike Mitchell and Richard Mandella, all of whom tend to have fantastic meets where the turf meets the surf.
On the rider side of things, Rafael Bejarano has started the meet on a tear and I don’t expect him to slow down. Edwin Maldonado, who started his career here at Assiniboia Downs, and Joe Talamo, were both close at Hollywood Park, but might slow down a bit in the summer months. Veterans Mike Smith and Gary Stevens will likely pick and choose a high percentage of winners to ride and should always be respected. I am also expecting big things from Martin Garcia and Julien Leparoux, due to barn connections that include Bob Baffert and John Sadler.
The main thing to remember about Del Mar is that a horse can’t be too far out of it on any of their surfaces, as the pacesetters tend to hold on. It’s another meet that can be incredibly rewarding with a little contrary opinion thrown into in your bag of handicapping tricks.
Looking quickly at Assiniboia Downs for the weekend, I like a few longshots like Sigga on the huge class drop, Sartoralist on the stretch out and Take That on the sneaky class drop. Take an extra look at the stake on Saturday too, as it is the first time the Manitoba-bred 3-year-olds will go a mile. Divine Wisdom will be an overwhelming favorite, but…
Rob’s Best Bets and Weekend Longshots:
Record-to-Date: 8-6-4 from 33 starts
Wagered: $222.00 Returned: $159.90 Profit: $-62.10
Friday Best Bet: Race 1 – Citizen Patrol
Friday Longshot: Race 7 – Sigga
Saturday Best Bet: Race 7 – Divine Wisdom
Saturday Longshot: Race 5 – Eslin
Next Post Time for Live Racing: 7:30 p.m. Friday, July 19, 2013