Tuesday, March 31, 2015


      
5 Keys to Winning at Gulfstream Park
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GULFSTREAM MEET INCLUDES MORE GOOD RACING THROUGH APRIL

By Noel Michaels - OTBLearningLabs

Flash! Cashed the winner in each of this past Saturday’s Derby Preps! Materiality ($5.60) in the Florida Derby, and International Star ($6.60) in the Louisiana Derby

The Gulfstream Park winter "Championship Meet" is over, but there is still so much good racing and wagering to shoot for at the new and expanded Gulfstream meet that lasts into the summer in south Florida.

Gulfstream is the marquee East Coast winter meet, and we have seen more than enough racing by now to give us plenty of valuable information to provide for a profitable home stretch at Gulfstream Park following Florida Derby Day.

Bet Gulfstream Beyond Florida Derby Day

After Florida Derby Day comes and goes, the Gulfstream meet now goes on longer these days since the demise of the old Calder meet. Calder has essentially been swallowed up into the Gulfstream fold, and is now "Gulfstream Park West." But racing won’t move to GPW this April like in years past. Racing will remain at Gulfstream for the summer, and it will continue to be a good product, similar to what we used to see at Calder.

Following the Florida Derby, horses begin to depart Gulfstream back to their main home bases in New York and Kentucky. Keeneland runs in April, and horses also begin departing for Aqueduct. Keep in mind, however, that this mass exodus of horses and horsemen isn’t necessarily immediate and all encompassing. Plenty of good horses will stick around through all or part of April, and the wind-down of the Gulfstream Championship meet will really take several weeks.

The old "Summit of Speed" has been revived this year, too, setting up a great day of stakes racing and wagering on April 25 with 5 Graded stakes.

And so, let’s take a closer look at Gulfstream Park for the weeks that follow through the month of April.

Here are some Gulfstream handicapping tips to help you win for the rest of spring and summer at Gulfstream Park.

In Gulfstream dirt races, the prevailing track bias tends to favor horses with early speed, or at least tactical speed, at all distances. Stalkers and mid-pack horses sometimes run well, but deep closers are generally not the best plays at Gulfstream Park, except on days when a temporary bias may help out closers and work against speed.

The long-time winning track profile in the longer sprint races at 7F, 7.5F, and 1 mile has been an advantage toward outside horses and a disadvantage for inside posts - particularly the rail post. That winning profile has mainly disappeared in 2015 so far, however, with fair chances for all horses, and, if anything, perhaps a slight preference for inside draws.

Most stunning has been how well the rail has done this season from the previously terrible one post in one mile races. Horses breaking from that post have won a roughly 15% at one mile - very solid indeed.

Seven furlongs still offers outside horses their best advantage on the main track, and no advantage at all can be gained at that distance from an inside post versus an outside one.

In shorter sprints at 6F or less, the inside and middle posts are the best places to be, but that is no surprise because the old bias against inside posts never really had much effect on the shorter races on the main track.

In two-turn dirt races it is a different story. The post position bias against outside posts in two-turn races on Gulfstream’s main track remains a solid handicapping factor. Not only can’t you bet outside posts with that short run to the first turn, but apparently you can’t even bet middle posts, either, based on the horrible numbers from 2015 so far.

In dirt route races run on Gulfstream’s main track ranging at 1-1/16 miles and longer, roughly two-thirds are won from the four inside posts.  All other posts have yield less than a 10% chance of winning, and posts nine and outward have almost zero chance. Therefore, pass on the outside-drawn horses in dirt routes when you see them, take note, and bet them back next time as live overlays assuming they get a better draw.

One final note on dirt route posts: The rail (post #1) has been great in these races, winning at a win percentage over 20%.

Beyond just the prevailing biases, don’t overlook those important daily track biases when handicapping Gulfstream, which can be filled with a variety of track biases that end up affecting the outcomes of the races in several different ways. Keeping track of biases can lead you to some interesting overlays that offer good value, while at the same time helping you steer clear of horses that have been aided by track biases in recent good efforts. Handicappers should not underestimate the impact that these biases can have on the race results. This bias information can be invaluable when it comes to evaluating the relative strength or weakness of the contenders in future races in cases where horses are exiting races where they ran with, or against, a noticeable track bias.

Below are my personal main track bias notes for Gulfstream Park’s 2014-15 season, up through March 22:

Gulfstream Track Biases, 2014-15 Meet (through March 26)

  • Mar. 20 - Off-the-pace advantage
  • Mar. 14 - Speed good
  • Mar. 7 - Difficult to come from too far back
  • Mar. 6 - Speed bias
  • Feb. 15 - Outside good
  • Feb. 14 - Outside preferred
  • Feb. 13 - Outside preferred
  • Jan. 9 - Had to be on or close to the pace
  • Jan. 4 - Had to be on or close to the pace; outside preferred
  • Jan. 3 - Had to be on or close to the pace
  • Dec. 17 - Strong speed bias, all 5 dirt winners wire-to-wire

Gulfstream Turf Trends

Interestingly, unlike in Gulfstream’s two-turn dirt races, outside post positions have never been much of a detriment for horses in two-turn turf races. This is opposite to the way most tracks play where inside draws are key factors in winning turf routes. This year’s turf route post position figures have shown a good stats for inside posts 2-3, however, more often than not at it is running style - not post draw - that has been a key determining factor how well a horse is expected to run on the Gulfstream lawn.

Gulfstream’s turf course is generally not friendly to early speed horses, and through the last few years it has become one of the most difficult courses in the country on which to go wire-to-wire on the grass. This one consistent handicapping factor is what has led to the explosion of those ubiquitous 7.5F two-turn turf races at Gulfstream, especially at the 2014-2015 Championship Meet. The turf course is so difficult to win on going wire-to-wire, the track and the horsemen have discovered that the 7.5F distance has become the greatest equalizer for all turf running styles in terms of fairness at Gulfstream, giving horses with all running styles - including front-runners - an equal chance to win.

Interestingly, outside post positions in Gulfstream turf routes have not been as much of a detriment for horses as they’ve been in Gulfstream dirt routes. As a matter of fact, all posts in turf routes have been fair and have relatively even win percentages. There have even been several times at this meet - including notably the weekend of Feb. 7-8 - where outside posts ruled on the GP turf. So far at this year’s Gulfstream meet, running style - not post draw - has been a key determining factor how well a horse is expected to run on the Gulfstream lawn.

If you must bet a Gulfstream turf front-runner, make sure

  1. it’s the lone speed in the race, preferably from an inside post,
  2. it’s a race at 7.5F, or a turf sprint at 5F, or
  3. Look and see if the turf rails are moved far out from the hedge.

The Gulfstream turf course is extremely wide, and the track superintendent has been known to move the rails out over 80 feet and sometimes over 100 feet in order to preserve the course conditions for big race days and weekends. Traditionally, turf rails out is a handicapping factor that favors front runners on the turf, and even Gulfstream Park is no exception.

Getting back to point #2 mentioned above, from a purely technical standpoint, both Gulfstream’s 5 furlong turf races and 7.5 furlong turf races are all turf sprints. But really for all intents and purposes, races at the two distances have nothing in common and should not be regarded as similar by handicappers in any way.

Turf sprints at 5 furlongs are true turf dashes of pure speed, while 7.5 furlong races, while technically sprints, are run around two turns and must really be classified more like one mile turf races because that is the way they tend to be contested - as routes and not like sprints at all (remember, they’re two-turn races!).

Some statistical outlets lump these two races into the same category (i.e. "turf sprints"), thereby messing up the accuracy of the stats. These two kinds of races must be broken down individually from the other.

When handicapping 5 furlong turf sprints at Gulfstream, speed is the key word and it is usually difficult to rally from too far back off the pace in these races. They are usually won by "the speed of the speed," or by a close-up presser or stalker who can pass tired front runners late. Also, it should be noted that unlike turf sprints at a lot of other venues, like Saratoga and Santa Anita, there is not a bias against horses drawn inside in these GP turf sprints. All post positions yield fair results all the way on out to post 9. Posts wider than post nine, however, have proven to be a death sentence - they almost never win.

As for the 7.5 furlong turf races at Gulfstream, the outside posts are not a disadvantage like you would think due to the short run into the first turn. Outside horses have been winning these races, and that is true all the way out to post 12.

Summary

All the handicapping angles in this article are for a horseplayer’s general information and are intended to help bettors identify which of their selections might be in a better position to perform optimally, as opposed to others that may not be in quite as good of a situation due to either their running style, their post position, and whether or not their recent past performances were earned with or against the help of any track biases.

Good luck on Florida Derby Day, and throughout the last three weeks of the Gulfstream meet. I hope you enjoy a profitable homestretch of action at Gulfstream Park.


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