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PLAY AQUEDUCT’S OVERLOOKED MAIN TRACK FALL MEET

By Noel Michaels

After the Breeders’ Cup has come and gone and you are looking for the best racing in the country to bet over the course of the month of November, don’t overlook Aqueduct’s fall main track meet - it is always one of the most underrated race meets of the year. The Aqueduct Fall meet, starting Wednesday, October 29, will be a short but sweet race meet offering horseplayers some of their best wagering options during from now until Thanksgiving weekend alongside some other great seasonal racing going on this time of year at Churchill Downs and the new Del Mar autumn meet.

Many people associate Aqueduct with small fields and low-priced winning favorites, but that reputation mainly stems from Aqueduct’s winter inner track stretching from December through March. The Aqueduct fall main track meet still features big, wide-open fields, turf racing, and plenty of good betting opportunities similar to the just-closed Belmont Fall Championship Meet, especially nowadays with Aqueduct racino pumping giant cash into the purses. This big money will be enough to keep plenty of horses and horsemen running in New York throughout the fall. Bigger fields will means a lower percentage of odds-on favorites, and that means better racing and wagering in New York until Gulfstream’s winter meet opens in December.

The Aqueduct main track Fall Meet offers handicappers a great betting product at a time of year that is generally pretty lean in terms of classy racing around the country. To some bettors, Aqueduct simply means the start of the long, cold winter in New York racing. However, the brief high-quality month of November at the Big A should not be confused with the Aqueduct inner track meet that follows it. All horseplayers should instead make the distinction between the inner track and Aqueduct’s main track, which is among the fairest racing surfaces in all of North American racing and also includes turf racing and several important stakes races centered mainly around the Thanksgiving weekend.

Racing at Aqueduct in November should be more than enough to help handicappers fend off the post-Breeders’ Cup blues. November racing at Aqueduct will be just what the doctor ordered for you. This is because there is usually very little track bias at Aqueduct, there is still good turf racing on the schedule, and most of the top New York-based horses, trainers, and jockeys are still around during the month of November.

THE AQUEDUCT MAIN TRACK FALL MEET
NYRA’s top-class stakes program is not finished, for all-intents-and-purposes, until racing moves to the inner track in December. Aqueduct’s premier fall stakes races are all still ahead of us over the Thanksgiving holiday with the running of the G3-Fall Highweight on Thursday, Nov. 27, the G2-Go For Wand Handicap for fillies & mares on Friday, Nov. 28, and the revamped G3-Comely, as well as the G2-Remsen, the G2-Demoiselle, and of course the G1-Cigar Mile all scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 29.

BIG A TRACK PROFILE
The fall meet at Aqueduct is in many ways essentially just an extension of the Belmont fall meet. Perhaps the biggest change with the move to Aqueduct from Belmont is the different track configuration that hastens the return of two-turn route races to the New York racing scene following a Belmont season where essentially all dirt routes are run around one turn. This change cannot be underestimated because different horses generally excel in one-turn races than in two-turn races.

For starters, one-turn routes at Belmont give stretchout sprinters a better chance to handle an added distance as opposed to Aqueduct’s two-turn routes, which favor true route horses that don’t have distance limitations.  This is why we often see big turnarounds in form from horses moving from Belmont to Aqueduct.

The routes at the Big A are actually more akin to routes run at Saratoga and Monmouth than they are to the races at Belmont. Therefore, give preference to route horses that show good route form from Saratoga, Monmouth, and especially back class and form from the Aqueduct main track when you’re betting at Aqueduct, and don’t be afraid to bet against the horses that had been taking advantage of Belmont’s one-turn routes in order to rack up their sharp recent form.

As mentioned, this factor makes the horse for the course angle on Aqueduct’s main track even more important than it is elsewhere. Scan horse’s career record boxes in the past performances for their past Aqueduct main track form, and give the edge to horses for the course that are proven on the Big A main track and turf course. These horses can turn their fortunes around immediately with the switch away from Belmont to a more favored surface.

AQUEDUCT MAIN TRACK TRENDS
In terms of running style and post position favoritism, keep in mind that Aqueduct’s main track is among the fairest there is. Very little advantage can be gleaned by any one post position or running style versus any other. Interestingly, too, is the fact that the rail post has a bad reputation in the main track’s one-turn miles, but the statistics fail to back that up. All posts, including the rail, appear to be fair in one-turn miles, and if anything, based strictly on the numbers from recent main track meets under the current track superintendent, the rail seems to be better in mile races (one turn) than it is in two-turn routes. This is exactly the opposite from what one might expect. At other distances, post positions and running style preferences also are virtual non factors here. If anything, perhaps sprints can occasionally favor inside posts, but this is not a big enough bias to base your bets on.

Keep a close eye on how the track plays during the first full week of the Aqueduct main track fall meet and be flexible enough to go-with-the-flow with your wagering. An opening week bias might be just a short-term trend, but even a short-term trend may turn into a meet-long trend at a meet like this which lasts only about four weeks.

AQUEDUCT TURF TIPS
As far as running styles are concerned on the Aqueduct grass course, many handicappers assume speed carries well on the Aqueduct turf because of its tight turns. Take note, however, that that has often not been the case at recent Aqueduct fall meets with only about 15% of all turf winners going wire-to-wire. In fact, not only aren’t front runners always good bets on the Aqueduct grass - but even the pace pressers sometimes don’t do well. In total, about two-thirds of all grass winners can be expected to come from fifth-place or further back during the early stages of the running of the race based on the last couple of meets. Therefore, bet the closers on the Aqueduct lawn until you see proof that this trend is reversing.

Not surprisingly, the far outside posts generally do not do well on the Aqueduct lawn. Even when the closers tend to win more than their share, posts 8 and outward struggle on the Aqueduct turf. This seems to suggest the importance of saving ground early in Aqueduct turf races, especially around the first turn.

Finally, beware the far inside rail Post #1 on the Aqueduct grass, which has been dead on-and-off for parts of the last few years. Horses from other inside posts generally do well, but the rail post itself is hit-or-miss.  Perhaps it is something that has to do with wet or dry weather. In wet weather, the turf rail might be the last place to fully dry out, making it a disadvantage when the track is being upgraded from something other than “firm” condition.

AQUEDUCT JOCKEYS AND TRAINERS
One of the biggest headlines of the Belmont fall meet was jockey Irad Ortiz overtaking Javier Castellano for the riding title thanks to a red-hot closing weekend. This was in spite of the fast that Castellano stayed home from Keeneland to ride the full Belmont meet and concentrate on winning the jockey title. This to me is a sign that Ortiz has truly come of age and is no longer just a top New York winter rider but actually an up-and-coming player on the national scene.

Irad Ortiz had 46 winners and a 21% win percentage, while Castellano won 43 races with a win percentage of 19%. Both riders, along with third-place Joel Rosario (38 winners at Belmont but a big 26% win percentage), and fourth-place Jose Ortiz (32 wins, 15%) should rule the jockey standings at Aqueduct this November. Also watch out for Manuel Franco, who doesn’t win at a high percentage at Belmont, but who rides a ton of horses, wins races, and should see his win percentage improve this time of year.

In the trainer’s standings at the recently concluded Belmont Fall meet, Chad Brown enjoyed a giant season and ran away with the meet title with 30 wins (25%). His barn is dominant now with horses of every category, but keep in mind that other trainers who might offer more wagering value have also won for high winning percentages this fall - all in the 24-26% range - and all cannot be overlooked. This group not only includes trainers who require no introduction such as David Jacobson, Rudy Rodriguez, Christophe Clement, and Todd Pletcher, but also lower-profile barns such as Gary Gullo, Abigail Adsit, Michelle Nevin, and Thomas Morley.

If you blink, you’ll miss one of the great and underrated race meets of the year in Thoroughbred racing - the Big A main track fall meet. Enjoy the season, and don’t overlook Aqueduct. Best of luck!


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