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28 July 2009

Saratoga Primer

With Saratoga just hours away it is time for handicappers to shift gears. Saratoga offers three basic things. First it offers large competitive fields which are not avsai see downstate or at other tracks. Second Saratoga offers access to value and amateur money. At the downstate racing venues there is very little dumb money in the pools; the wagering is strictly shark on shark. Saratoga’s charm is enough to introduce some chum into the water. More people play their wife’s age at Saratoga in one race than wives ages are played all winter at Aqueduct. The final thing Saratoga offers is racing as an event. If drinking Cisco out of a brown paper bag is Aqueduct; Saratoga is a sipping a fine vintage of Dom Perignon. There are storylines that pique the interest between the lines of the racing form. Horses are pointed here and everyone wants to be in the winners circle.

As the meet begins I am trimming my wagering strategy away from “power plays” and towards spreading for value. As the meet commences there is an element of chaos. Every field is packed (the opening day card has over 130 horses entered) with entries and unlikely tote busting results are likely. Horses are converging from all points and sometimes form is turned on its side. Do not be afraid to make chaos your friend. As the meet moves forward the chaos will settle down and the surprises will subside.

The bet that will anchor my strategy is the rolling daily double. The double pool typically offers value and with a relatively low take-out I am not afraid to spread on doubles 5 X 3 to try to catch a nice return on a race where there is a vulnerable favorite with several contenders. Other times I may play the wager cold for $20. With the $1 min everyone can afford to vary the bet denomination up and down to express their opinion. With the double a horseplayer is not relegated to the “caveman” spread ticket that most people play in the pick 4. The key for Saratoga handicappers is not to scour the card for winners but for losers. Your first pass over the racing form should be to look for likely losers at a short price. Races with vulnerable chalk are the races to wager on.

Saratoga is an vacation destination. Tourists go there. Tourists do not go to Aqueduct and the tourists that go to Belmont are usually hardcore horseplayers from out of town. These people at Saratoga are there to have fun and they have no idea what they are doing. They play numbers, names, colors and birthdays. As a horseplayer you do not want to be behind these people in line at the windows but these are the people you want to bet against for your entire career as a horseplayer. Saratoga is the last New York meet that provides pari-mutuel access to unsophisticated bankroll.

Uniquely in New York racing, Saratoga is an event. This might be the only meet where the connections of five different horses have their charge sitting on a winning race. At any other meet four of them are going to scratch to find an easier spot. Horses are pointed towards this meet and primed to run a peak effort. For the horseplayer this is the time to pick your spots and use patience. Find the vulnerable favorite on that card and wait for it. While you are waiting learn to watch and enjoy the competition. In the past I have burned myself out playing every day at this meet. Six weeks may be a relatively short meet but it could be a long six weeks if you are playing six days a week ten races a day. Play it cool as the racing heats up. Appreciate the beauty of a venue that still respects the history of racing. If you have not visited I urge you to make the trip up to Saratoga racecourse. Here's to a great meet at Saratoga.

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