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Jul 24, 2009

American turf club lead

By: Joe Girardi


            You know the saying Christmas in July I wonder if they were talking about Saratoga. July 28th is Christmas Eve and July 29th is Christmas Day as Saratoga opens its doors for its 141st season. The meeting runs from July 29th through Monday, September 7th, Labor Day. They run Wednesday to Monday with the only off day coming on Tuesdays. Post time is 1 p.m. eastern time with three exceptions. On Travers day, August 29th the first race post is 11:35 a.m. and there are two “Party at the Park” racing days, Friday July 31st and Friday September 4th, first race post coming at 2:30 p.m. In addition to the late post there will be live music on stage in the backyard.

            There are many special events throughout the 36-day Saratoga meeting with many popular giveaway days along with special days honoring different groups, a Travers Festival and much more. Go to www.NYRA.com, click on Saratoga and it will tell you all about them. It’s worth a trip at least once or twice during the meeting, I should know since I have been going there since I was just three years old, over 30 years now. Despite the great town, great track and the ambience that cannot be beat, winning at Saratoga is a plus. All the top trainers and jockeys make their way up there for the meet, and horses are pointed specifically for this time of year. No one is up here trying to get a race under their belt. Let’s take a look at some of the human connections to follow when playing at Saratoga, either on track or from a simulcast facility.

            Last year’s leading jockey was Alan Garcia who got to the winners’ circle 39 times, three more than runner-up John Velazquez and seven more than third place finisher, Edgar Prado. Ramon Dominguez finished 12 behind with 27 victories. Saratoga is always a very competitive meeting and during these times there hasn’t been a dominant jockey that you can say will be tough to beat at this meeting since Angel Cordero. However, now that Dominquez has made the move to full time in New York we may have found our dominant jockey. At this current Belmont meeting, as of this writing Dominguez has 90 wins, 26 more than his closest rival, Rajiv Maragh. He is riding at almost a 25% clip with well over 50% in the money. Problem is he has now got that reputation so you usually get an underlaid price but at Saratoga with so much competition from all angles you don’t have to worry about that. Rajiv Maragh, who is just coming into his own, should have another good meeting as he somehow still goes under the radar. Shaun Bridgmohan and Robby Albarado, usually come for this meeting and both rode well here last year. Bridgmohan rides first call for trainer Steve Asmussen and he goes as Asmussen goes.

            On the trainer’s side of things it was also a close race. Kiaran McLaughlin got the job done with 17 wins from just 62 starts for a win percentage of 27.4%. That was two more wins than Todd Pletcher who had started 103 horses, he was another two wins ahead of third place finisher Richard Dutrow Jr. This year’s meeting should be even more interesting. The top three trainers at Saratoga last year— none of them are in the top three at the current Belmont meeting. Gary Contessa, who always starts a lot of horses, currently holds the lead at 23 with just 4 days to go. He has three more than the current second place trainer, Christophe Clement who has 20. Clement, however has a win percentage of almost 27% while Contessa is at 11%. Barclay Tagg is currently third with 19 wins and a very nice win percentage over 23%. This year’s Saratoga meeting is definitely up for grabs. However, some trainers to look for that might not compete for the title are Chad Brown, 6 for 18 (33.3%), Wesley Ward, 10 for 28 (35.7%) and George Weaver 7 for 35 (20%).

            Whoever wins these titles will have to earn it, Saratoga is the toughest meeting there is. This also means that the bettors will have to earn it also. But at Saratoga, the opportunity for prices is there, the money is there to be made. Trust me on this one, get up to Saratoga, at least once and you will never regret it. Hope to see some of you there and good luck at the windows.



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