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PICKING WINNERS ON AQUEDUCT’S INNER AS SIMPLE AS...

By Noel Michaels - OTBLearningLabs.com

The winter racing season in New York officially began with the opening of the Aqueduct inner track in early December. Even though winter racing is the most low-profile time of the year on the New York racing calendar, there is still much for horseplayers to anticipate during the long cold winter months in the Big Apple. Graded stakes racing and turf racing might not be a part of the New York racing scene at this time of the year, but that doesn’t mean there is not a lot of bettable action for bettors and handicappers who consider Aqueduct’s inner track meet to be the best meat-and-potatoes money-making opportunity of the year.

Some people love to bet the inner track while others can’t stand it, but even if you don’t like it, you’d at least better get used to it because there are several months of racing scheduled over the Big A inner track now through the end of March, 2015.

The good news is that this season at Aqueduct will not be sparse like in years gone by. Racino money has led to giant purses and strong Aqueduct fall main track meets that carry over to some extent onto the Aqueduct inner track meet, which should enjoy decent fields and competitive races. Whenever there is extra purse money you know more horsemen and more horses will stick around and forego the trip to Floirda in order to spend the winter at Aqueduct, thereby ensuring bigger fields and good betting opportunities. Statistically speaking, there will be 15%-20% more horses stabled locally this winter than just a couple of years ago.

Even if you are the type of winter horseplayer who prefers to play the “big winter meets” opening in warm weather locales at this time of year, there is no denying that the Aqueduct inner track is where it’s at for winter racing horseplayers, especially during much of the otherwise sparse month of December in the world of horseracing.

AQUEDUCT INNER TRACK LOGISTICS

Winter racing in New York is essentially a scaled-down but yet very bettable version of NYRA’s racing schedule without all the bells and whistles of graded stakes and turf racing. The race cards will now become dirt-only affairs, of course, as turf racing migrates south and west for the winter, so what we’re left with are the Aqueduct inner track’s dirt sprints, which are all no longer than six furlongs, and two-turn route racing mostly conducted at 1 mile and 70 yards, and 1 1/16-miles with some occasional one-mile and 1 1/8-mile races sprinkled into the mix.

Why are most of the two-turn route races on the Aqueduct inner track run at 1 mile and 70 yards and 1 1/16 miles instead of at a flat mile, you ask? The answer is because the turns on the inner track are tight, and the route races here all feature a relatively short run to the first turn. This is especially true at the distance of one mile, which features a very short run up into the first turn, and therefore has the biggest disadvantage for horses drawn in outside posts.

As far as post positions are concerned, the inside posts have been beneficial for the most part, but still not as dominant recently as in years past, especially in two-turn route races where the three inside posts often used to dominate.

At recent Aqueduct inner track meets, the inside four posts 1-4 were still the best, but posts 5-6 weren’t bad either, and horses as far out as post 8 even managed to win at a decent percentage, which made it one of the best posts last winter in Aqueduct inner track routes.  What this means more than anything is that you just can’t dismiss an outside horse’s chances just because of its post position like you could in the old days of the Big A inner track.

Interestingly, the inside posts were slightly more beneficial in sprints than in routes recently on the inner track. All Aqueduct inner track sprints are run at either 5.5 and mostly 6 furlongs, and in these races it has been the inside two posts 1-2 that have been the best places to break from. Nevertheless, outside of posts 1-2, all other posts were fair all the way outward to post 12 in sprints, with little difference observed in a horse’s chances of winning given any post from 3 through 12. Therefore, if you notice an inside slant on the tote board toward horses closer to the rail, then an alert handicapper should start to be looking for value odds horses on the outside half of the starting gate.

INNER TRACK RUNNING STYLES, TRACK TRENDS, AND ANGLES

The other main thing to understand and try to capitalize on when handicapping the inner track meet is that the inner track is much more speed-friendly than Aqueduct’s main track, which encompasses nearly all of the most recent races in local horse’s past performances. If you are going to be able enjoy any kind of success betting the inner track, you must learn to acknowledge the increased success of speed - and particularly inside speed - as opposed to the racing on Aqueduct’s very non-biased main track. Do yourself a favor and upgrade early speed horses while slightly downgrading the closers, especially if there doesn’t figure to be a contentious pace.

Early speed is king on the Aqueduct inner track, and speed and the rail is a deadly combination. Upgrade early speed horses and make good use of the lone speed angle, while at the same time downgrading deep closers in all but the most contentious pace scenarios.

The three- and four-wide trips that win other times of the year in New York don’t win nearly as often once NYRA racing shifts to the Aqueduct inner track. In routes, the short run to the first turn makes ground-saving trips invaluable and puts the pressure on the riders of the outermost horses in big fields to somehow work out ground-saving trips. Outside posts can indeed win, but the horses from those gates generally need good “inside-out” trips and rides, meaning that they should save ground early before swinging out leaving the turn and rallying into the stretch from not too far behind.

One way to make money on Aqueduct’s inner track, especially early in the meet, is to capitalize on the many differences between main track racing and inner track racing at Aqueduct. Many of the races that had been run around one turn at Belmont and on Aqueduct’s main track will now be run around two turns. So scan down horses’ pp’s and find the ones that should benefit from the extra turn. Horses with two-turn route wins are preferred over one-turn mile winners and horses who’ve benefited from the one-turn route racing at Belmont.

Another aspect of looking for two-turn horses is the importance of finding horses for the course, that thrive specifically on Aqueduct’s inner track. Certain horses love Aqueduct’s winterized inner-track surface while others can’t stand it, and many veteran horses have compiled great long-term records over the inner oval which makes them very attractive bets, sometimes at long odds if those horses have poor recent form earned on other race surfaces.

Sometimes horses will ship out of town to Parx, Finger Lakes, New Jersey, and the Mid-Atlantic region for the rest of the year, but their connections will ship them back to Aqueduct for the inner-track meet if the horse is proven to have an affinity for the inner track surface in the past. These horses can often be terrific bets, especially when they are trained by top conditioners such as Bruce Levine and Anthony Dutrow.

With the transition from main track racing to inner-track racing at Aqueduct, a lot of variety is lost with the wintertime demise of the middle sprint distances of 6 1/2 furlongs and 7 furlongs. The inner track configuration prohibits these distances from being run at this time of year. However, aside from the monotony that handicappers must face by looking only at sprint races all being run at the same distance of 6 furlongs over-and-over, this not-so-subtle difference is nevertheless a major factor for handicappers to use to their best advantage.

Many of the sprint horses whose connections stick around New York for the winter have horses that would prefer 6 1/2 and/or 7 furlongs. However, those horses must be shoe-horned into 6 furlong races whether they like it or not (or else stretched out around two turns, which is often even less preferable). The fact that a lot of horses will spend the whole winter at Aqueduct racing at a distance that is not their best is an important handicapping factor that should not be overlooked. Therefore, scan down horses’ past performances and try to find the ones that would rather be entered at better 6 1/2 of 7 furlong races, but have had to be either shortened up to 6 furlongs or stretched out to two-turn races instead. When you find these horses, bet against them whenever possible.

Also remember that this six-furlong factor is yet another thing that results in speed horses performing very well on the Aqueduct inner track. Many late-running sprinters that could rally to win a 6 1/2- or 7-furlong race will now be having their rallies fall short because they are forced to sprint 6 furlongs at a distance that just isn’t long enough to aid their late-running chances.

TRAINERS

There will be a Florida exodus of trainers just like there is for jockeys following the holidays, and many of the top training names will be absent all or in part on the inner track. Top trainers like Todd Pletcher and Kiaran McLaughlin will still be represented, but not in as big numbers as at other times of the year as their primary attention turns to Florida. Other big names like Shug McGaughey and Christophe Clement will be largely absent from NY in favor of Florida. The top names in the trainer standing taking their places on the Aqueduct inner track winners list will include familiar New York names such as Gary Contessa, Bruce Levine, Linda Rice, and Bruce Brown.

Counteracting the southbound exodus of horses this season at Aqueduct - thanks to the added purses - will be a better-than-usual influx of horses and trainers that will be active on the inner track.  Good purses will enticed trainers such as Dale Romans, Eddie Kenneally, and Ken McPeek, among many others, to race winter strings of horses in NY to help spice up this inner track meet.

On the tote board at Aqueduct on the inner track, the story often revolves around the top inner track trainers, Rudy Rodriguez, and David Jacobson. Their runners will all see heavy action pretty much whenever they are entered.  Rodriguez and Jacobson and are likely to battle it out for top honors on the inner at the 2014-2015 Aqueduct inner-track meet, with Jacobson likely to emerge as leading trainer. However, Rodriguez’s and Jacobson’s expected high win percentages may or may not be enough to boost them up into positive ROI territory for handicappers, because all of their horses are bet down to low odds and there are not as many national powerhouse stables around in the winter to deflect that betting money onto other horses.

Keep in mind that Linda Rice has been a major factor at this Aqueduct inner-track meet in recent winters despite splitting her stable between New York and Florida. Bruce Levine is a definite bet with horses with first-time Lasix (the “Bruce Juice”), but we advise laying off his horses at other times.

When listing the live trainers to bet besides Pletcher, Rodriguez, and Jacobson, the list also includes other trainers will be at Aqueduct with highly-bettable winter strings like James Jerkens, Rick Violette, Mike Hushion, and Tony Dutrow.

Good luck during the Aqueduct inner track meet, and enjoy the next four months of winter racing in New York.  Remember, just because many of the top horses and horsemen will be spending their winters out of town, that doesn’t mean there aren’t still bets to be cashed in New York at this time of year.  By following some of the trends, angles, and advice in this article, you can make your winter a winning one on the Aqueduct inner track. Enjoy!


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