Observations of Saratoga's turf courses
By Dick Powell
Despite three days of rain, Saratoga has had 15 days of turf racing; two days were washed out and one partially. A total of 71 turf races have been run with 32 of them on the Inner turf course and 39 on the Mellon turf course.
The average win price for the 71 turf races is $14.41. 26 favorites have won the 71 turf races for a win percentage of 36.62%. Field size is a healthy 8.85 runners per race. Most of these numbers show turf racing so far at Saratoga in 2016 is very formful. So why so many complaints?
When you talk to customers, you get horror stories about chaotic results on the turf and jockey decisions that leave them scratching their heads. So let’s drill down farther.
On the 32 races run on the Inner turf course, the average win price is $16.33. 10 favorites have won the 32 races run on the Inner turf course for a win percentage of 31.25%. Field size for the Inner turf course is 8.87 runners per race.
On the 39 races run on the Mellon turf course, the average win price is $12.84. 16 favorites have won the 39 races run on the Mellon turf course for a win percentage of 41.03%. Field size for the Mellon turf course if 8.82 runners per race.
So with virtually identical field sizes, the inner turf course is far more chaotic, or less formful, than the Mellon turf course. This makes some sense since the tighter turns of the inner turf course makes it harder to rally from behind and easier for a speed horse to hang on.
But the results for the inner turf course are actually more chaotic when you just focus on the two-turn distances and take out the six three-turn races. Now, there are 26 two-turn races run on the inner turf course and only six favorites won for a win percentage of only 23.08%.
On the Mellon turf course, part of the reason that the races are so formful (41% win percentage) is that the turf sprints saw 10 favorites win 23 Mellon turf course sprints for a win percentage of 43.48%. The average field size for turf sprints on the Mellon turf course is 8.65 and the average win price is $13.66. So, despite many customers still complaining about turf sprints, they are about the most formful races run here.
As we have seen in past years, post 1 is especially hard to win from. Unless you have a stone-cold speedball or a one-dimensional deep closer, the rail can compromise horses that race in mid-pack. So far at this meet through 15 days of turf racing, and 23 races run at 5 ½ furlongs, only two horses have won from post 1 for a win percentage of 8.7%.
As far as running styles, it is hard to tell if any track bias exists for either turf course or any specific distance. In two-turn races run on the Inner turf course, the average lengths behind at the half-mile pole is 3.89 lengths. In turf sprints on the Mellon turf course, the average lengths behind at the three-eighths pole is 3.92 lengths. In two-turn races run on the Mellon turf course, the average lengths behind at the half-mile pole is 4.84 which explains why favorite do so well under these circumstances since they have time to get up in time.
Nobody has won gate to wire in 16 Mellon turf course races going two turns.
Five horses have won going gate to wire in 23 turf sprints on the Mellon turf course. Five horses have won going gate to wire in 26 Inner turf course races going two turns.
Whether that is an issue of how the turf is playing or riders that constantly take speed horses back off the pace is anyone’s guess but I was surprised that 5 of 23 turf sprints were won gate to wire. 5 of 26 two-turn races on the inner turf course being won gate to wire does not surprise me at all.
So what do we know?
Turf racing can be a challenge since they are rarely run the way we think they are but following some basic rules should help.