Summertime. To some people it means vacations, long days spent outside in the sunshine, picnics and trips to the beach. Handicappers like picnics and trips to the beach too, usually surrounded by horses, past performances, and discarded losing tickets gleaming brightly in the sunshine. Of course, I'm talking about the rapidly approaching 2013 Saratoga and Del Mar meets. Saratoga is the easier of the two tracks to handicap. You have your basic dirt and turf. Del Mar on the other hand has Polytrack and turf. Horses ship into Saratoga from all over and win. No so at Del Mar. The jewel by the sea can stymie handicappers not used to the quirks and how the track plays. Like Keeneland, long-shot winners abound and what works at other tracks, including Keeneland, doesn't apply to Del Mar. Let's take a closer look at the primary factors to which horse players should pay attention.
Key 1 - Top Feeder Tracks:
Over the last couple of years, Del Mar has offered a ship and win bonus incentive to out of state horsemen. While it's good for California to have a variety from the steady diet of state-breds, it can toss a monkey wrench into the PP's for the handicappers.
Naturally, the majority of the winners last raced in California. Not surprising, since these horses make up to 90% of the fields, especially claiming races.
Key 2 - Maiden Claiming Considerations:
Sprints: Not so amazingly, the bulk of shippers last raced at Hollywood. 11% winners and 36% ITM scored. At Del Mar, the horse for course is applicable. 13% winners and 37% ITM last raced at the track. First time starters won 10% with 26% ITM. Not as many runners from Santa Anita went to the post, but 14% of them won and 38% were ITM.
The few shippers from Calder, Lone Star, Monmouth and the California fair circuit failed to win, although the lone shipper from Monmouth did hit the board.
Routes: Watch the shippers from Hollywood, they have an excellent 18% win 47% ITM record.
Key 3 - First Time Starters/Maiden Special Weight:
Pay close attention to the maidens who prepped at Hollywood. 17% won sprints and 13% won going long on the main track. First time starters only won 9% of the sprints, but completed the exotics at 34% in sprints. Avoid them in turf routes, as last year they went 0-10.
Claiming/ starter allowance winners and stakes races offered more variety and this is where the shippers showed their stuff. When runners from Calder and Golden Gate show up, run to the betting window. Combined, Calder horses in main track and turf races won a combined 83% with the rest hitting the board. Golden Gate runners fared at 43% win and 50% ITM in all main track/turf contests.
Key 4 - Toss Out of State Shippers:
Out of state shippers seemed to do best in turf routes rather than main track contests. What about horses switching from Arlington, Keeneland and Woodbine – they should be a good play, right? Nope. The paltry three that showed up to the Del Mar party failed to hit the board.
Polytrack has been in use long enough to gather relevant data about which sire's offspring have a proclivity for artificial surfaces. Look for offspring by these sires, especially the regional ones. This isn't an all inclusive, list, but most of the superior Polysires are represented below. Each sire has three or more runners at Del Mar since 2007. When you see their offspring on the card, chances are 50% or higher that the offspring will either win or finish in the money. Sometimes at very long odds.
Keep an eye on the offspring of these sires. This is not an all-inclusive list.
America's Storm, Arch, Artie Shiller, Black Minnaloushe, Bwana Charlie, Candy Ride, Cactus Ridge, Carson City, Cindigo, City Zip, Da Stoops, Distorted Humor, Even the Score, Explicit, Forest Camp, Ghostzapper, Great Notion, Half Ours, Kela, Lawyer Ron, Limehouse, Peace Rules, Pico Central, Pollards' Vision, Proud Citizen, Pure Precision, Roar of the Tiger, Salute the Sarge, Street Cry, Street Hero, Sun King, Sunriver, The Cliff's Edge, The Green Monkey, Tiz Wonderful, Value Plus, Vicar, War Front, Werblin, West Acre, Yankee Gentlemen.
Popular California Sires aren't always a good bet. Lost Soldier (60% winners) and Tribal Rule (18% winners) are the exception. Benchmark (14% winners) is always worth a second look, espeically when the offspring are working very well over the Polytrack. Unusual Heat (14%) winners are best played at the age of three and up. Decharchy (12% winners) Swiss Yodeler (11% winners) Awesome Gambler and Bertrando (9% wins each) are best played in your exotics.
Similar to Keeneland, many of the competitors will have superior Poly breeding but so-so dirt running lines. Watch the works very carefully on any horses switching from dirt or Cushion Track, they will tell you a ton about how they feel about Poly. Here are two classic examples that illustrate this point:
July 18, 2012 Race 10, 3 YO fillies & mares, maiden claiming. The winner, Miss Lady Ellen, was making her debut for the O'Neil barn (high percentage barn). Her sire Benchmark is a 14% Polysire. She was the only filly in the field with a work at Del Mar. Miss Lady Ellen went to the post at 6-1 odds and paid her backers $14.40 to win.
August 5, 2012 Race 6, 2 YO fillies, MSW. The winner, Pontchatrain is by a superior Polysire (War Front). Even though the Proctor barn had only a 9% win rate with first timers, this filly clearly showed her love for the Polytrack with her works which were a full two seconds faster at Del Mar than at Hollywood. Totally ignored, Pontchatrain opened at 12-1 and went to the post at 17-1. Astute handicappers were rewarded with a $37.00 win payday.
Of course, one should also take into account the female family, not just the sires and rate individual horses on their own merits. In the next article, we'll take a look at trainers, jockeys and the Del Mar track bias.
Past performances courtesy of Brisnet