How to bet Churchill Downs in September

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Ed DeRosa

September 14th, 2016

The first order of business when discussing the upcoming Churchill Downs meeting that opens Friday, September 16, is what to call it.

It’s not the September meeting because it spills into October (racing is September 16-18, September 22-25, and September 29-October 2). It’s not the fall meeting because A) some of it occurs in the summer, and B) that’s indistinguishable from the fall meeting in November.

So the options are the late summer/early fall meeting or the September-October meeting. Most years it will just be the September, which is why I titled this post the way I did. When people come looking for pointers, September is safe. But for this meeting I’ll probably just mix it up. We all know what I’m talking about.

The meeting itself is as unique as its name. Churchill Has been racing in Louisville since 1875, but the current calendar with a September opening wedged between summer racing at Ellis Park and fall racing at Keeneland Race Course began in 2013.

There’s another curveball this year, though: The first three years, Churchill ran quasi concurrently with Kentucky Downs’s five-day meeting. This year, however, all of Kentucky Downs’s dates occurred before Churchill opens, which should mean a little more turf racing than in this meeting’s short past (only 14% of races were on turf at this meeting last year compared to 21% at the spring-summer meeting earlier this year). Indeed, 19% of the first 21 races drawn are on turf.

So what sticks out on opening day? Well, to look for top opportunities at the upcoming meeting, I examined what did well at last year’s meeting, hoping using that information would give me an edge over those using past performances angles from the spring-summer meeting.

There were 35 dirt routes in September 2015, and betting on the top-ranked horse by Prime Power resulted in a positive ROI for the meeting. Normally this coincides with a solid performance from the best last-out Speed Rating, but that was not the case, as even though the top speed rating had a positive impact value, it’s flat-bet ROI was -26%. So the horses performed well but were easily identified by the wagering public.

The discrepancy in the wagering performance of the two numbers tells me not to be afraid to look for a little back class if you’re getting the right price. Prime Power takes into account several races and favors those with similar conditions to this race whereas the best last-out Speed Rating is only based on the last race regardless of surface, distance, etc., so Prime Power a good number of telling you who best fits today’s race whereas Speed Rating might indicate who’s most “in form”.

And the horse who best fits the above dichotomy on the opening day card is #1 Gotham News in race 8. Gotham News was third, beaten 8 ½ lengths in a similar condition last out at Ellis where he was bumped at the start and five wide as the 9-to-10 favorite. He earned an 81 Speed Rating that day to rank near the bottom of this group, but he returns to 1 1/16 miles at Churchill where has last two starts earned Speed Ratings in the 90+ range, which is capable of winning this. Throw in some intangibles like a trainer switch to Steve Asmussen and getting Corey Lanerie in the irons from the rail, and 7-to-2 looks a fair price.

As much as we touted using last year’s handicapping information on this year’s meeting verus relying too heavily on what worked from a past performances perspective earlier this year, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention how the track played last meeting.

As the chart below illustrates, one-turn races on the dirt (anything up to and including 1 mile) favored speed and those in the middle of the track. The rail did heat up late in the meeting but had a nasty winless streak going up to six furlongs for awhile. Something to watch early for sure.

Good luck this meeting!

Avg. Winning Odds: 4.88 - 1
Favorite Win%: 36%, Favorite Itm%: 67%
Exacta 77.65
Daily Double 70.58
Trifecta 562.92
Pick 3 490.00
Superfecta 4,397.93
Pick 4 4,225.50
Pick 5 19,823.37
Pick 6 Jackpot 122,559.63
Future Wager 128.38
Super High Five 9,057.88
TRACK BIAS MEET(04/30 - 07/02)
Distance #
6.0fDirt 70 20% E/P Middle  
7.0fDirt 42 26% E Middle  
1 MileDirt 58 19% E Middle  
1 1/16mDirt 58 31% E Rail/Ins  
Turf Sprint 10 50% E Rail  
Turf Routes 68 19% S Rail/Ins  
Who's HOT, Who's NOT
HOT TRAINERS Starts Wins Place Show Avg.
'15-' 16
Hartman Chris A. 17 9 1 1 5.26 5 22%
Tomlinson Michael A. 7 5 0 0 7.07 0 16%
Stidham Michael 7 3 0 0 4.90 2 18%
Amoss Thomas M. 8 3 1 3 6.78 1 26%
Catalano Wayne M. 8 3 0 1 6.03 2 17%
HOT JOCKEYS Starts Wins Place Show Avg.
'15-' 16
Santana, Jr. Ricardo 20 7 2 2 9.39 2 17%
Osorio Didiel A. 16 4 0 2 20.12 1 11%
COLD TRAINERS Starts Wins Place Show Avg.
'15-' 16
McPeek Kenneth G. 18 0 1 2 16.28 1 14%
Sharp Joe 11 0 0 1 14.49 0 17%
Colebrook Ben 10 0 2 1 20.04 1 12%
COLD JOCKEYS Starts Wins Place Show Avg.
'15-' 16
Castanon Jesus Lopez 18 0 1 1 30.91 1 11%
St. Julien Marlon 17 0 0 3 29.56 0 6%
Hernandez Carlos J. 14 0 0 3 20.83 0 7%
Vargas Juan P. 10 0 2 0 30.84 0 11%