Trainer Angles To Watch This Year At Saratoga

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TwinSpires Staff

July 15th, 2014

Saratoga kicks off on Friday and promises 40 days of excellent racing and countless betting opportunities. I'm going to focus this column on important trainer angles that all horseplayers must be aware of as they handicap racing at The Spa.

Before I dive into discussing Saratoga trainer angles, let me say that in my years of following racing, I've discovered that this game generally tends to attract an opinionated and argumentative type of person. Indeed, other than cashing a winning ticket, there's nothing most of us love more than expressing an opinion or engaging in an argument.

When writing about Trainer Angles, the temptation is to get bogged down in explaining or theorizing why the stats are what they are. For instance:

* Bill Mott has saddled 98 consecutive losers with two-year-old first-time starters at Saratoga. However, Mott is 20 for his last 58 (34.5% wins and a dazzling $2.85 ROI) In Saratoga Turf races with runners off a 120+ day layoff.

An entire column could be written theorizing why Mott struggles so badly with two-year-old debuters, but excels with experienced grass horses returning to Saratoga off a layoff. But, to keep this from becoming the length of War & Peace, we will refrain from theorizing as much as possible.

Without any further ado, here are some trainers to follow at Saratoga and some training angles to be aware of:

* Chad Brown: A top-class young trainer, Chad Brown grew up in the Saratoga area and his statistics indicate that he points for this meet. Indeed, Chad Brown trained horses are 103-for-367 (28% wins and a profitable $2.23 ROI) at Saratoga.

Brown has been excellent at Saratoga in many categories, but he's been phenomenal at getting turf routers ready off of workouts. He is 28-12-5-3 (43% wins and $3.02 ROI) with experienced Turf Routers off a 120+ day layoff. He's also 42-9-11-7 (21% wins and a $3.03 ROI) with first-time-starters debuting in a Turf Route.

* Tony Dutrow: Amazingly, Tony Dutrow has posted a profitable ROI with Dirt horses at Saratoga for seven consecutive seasons. Check out the consistency:

2007: 5-for-21 (24% wins and $2.80 ROI)
2008: 7-for-20 (35% wins and $2.05 ROI)
2009: 9-for-17 (53% wins and $4.04 ROI)
2010: 3-for-7 (43% wins and $3.76 ROI)
2011: 5-for-13 (38% wins and $3.30 ROI)
2012: 7-for-24 (29% wins and $2.21 ROI)
2013: 7-for-19 (37% wins and $4.18 ROI)

Tony Dutrow's combined record in Dirt races at Saratoga since 2007: 43-for-121 (36% wins and $3.06 ROI)

Dutrow has been especially dangerous in Maiden Claiming races over that span. On Dirt, his horses are 9-5-1-1 (56% wins and $6.60 ROI) On Turf, he's 6-2-2-1 (33% wins and $2.67 ROI)

* Gary Gullo: While far more low-profile than a Tony Dutrow, Gullo has been exceptional in Dirt races at Saratoga. Since 2006, his dirt starters are 84-16-15-19 (19% wins and $3.97 ROI) He's also had quite a few big longshots round out the exotics. Half Time Crown finishing second in the Grade 3 Victory Ride at 54/1 odds quickly comes to mind.

The key angle to be aware of with Gullo is Turf-to-Dirt. Gullo trained horses are 6-for-17 (35% wins and $10.99 ROI) when they go Turf-to-Dirt at Saratoga. On that same angle, the Gullo trained Fighting Speedy was a surging second beaten just a neck at 17/1 odds.

* Rick Violette: Since 1998, only one guy has trained more winners with 2-year-old first-time starters at Saratoga. His name? Todd Pletcher. Indeed, Rick Violette is 21-for-78 (27% wins and $3.01 ROI) with juvenile debuters at The Spa.

Violette is especially lethal with debuters in Maiden Claiming Dirt races at distances of 5.5 furlongs or less. He's 7-for-14 (50% wins and $7.64 ROI) in those races. Having Klaravich stock certainly helps, but Violette has been a brilliant Saratoga debut trainer for other owners, as well.

* Bill Mott: Since 2008, Mott is a miserable 0-for-98 with 2-year-old first time starters at Saratoga. This comical streak of futility does bring back one painful memory. One of the losers included in it was the brilliant sprinter Zensational. Initially just a $20,000 yearling purchase, Zensational scorched at the Fasig Tipton Calder 2-year-old sale. After his dazzling sales work, he was re-sold to Zayat Stables for $700,000.

I eagerly waited for Zensational to debut. He finally did in a six furlong maiden race at Saratoga, for Bill Mott. Zensational went off at a seemingly generous 2/1 odds. He broke sharply and made an easy lead without having to be asked. Zensational carried the lead around the far turn, before steadily fading to finish a distant no-excuse fourth. That was the last time Mott ever trained Zensational. He was transferred to Bob Baffert and didn't lose another sprint race until he was defeated in the 2009 Breeders' Cup Sprint as the post-time favorite.

Two days before Zensational debuted, another expensive Zayat 2-year-old at Saratoga named Pioneerof the Nile finished fourth in his debut for Mott, going 8.5 furlongs on the turf. When Pioneerof the Nile was finally transferred to Bob Baffert, he rattled off four straight Graded Stakes wins in as many starts, before finally losing a race when finishing a distant second to Mine That Bird in the Kentucky Derby

Bill Mott is a great trainer and a deserving Hall of Famer, but his record is terrible with 2-year-old firsters, and that is especially true at Saratoga where these maiden races are harder to win.

* Tom Albertrani: This is a former Bill Mott assistant who is best known for training champion Bernardini. Much like with mentor Mott, Albertrani stinks with first-time-starters. Throughout his training career, he's 2-for-75 with debuters at Saratoga. He's currently saddled 46 straight losing first-time starters at Saratoga.

* Nick Zito: A very popular and well liked trainer, but Zito trained horses have struggled mightily at Saratoga for every year since 2007. Check out the consistently awful ROI figures.

2007: 6-for-63 (10% wins and $0.79 ROI)
2008: 5-for-58 (9% wins and $0.62 ROI)
2009: 7-for-60 (12% wins and $0.90 ROI)
2010: 2-for-43 (5% wins and $0.53 ROI)
2011: 4-for-42 (10% wins and $1.25 ROI)
2012: 2-for-55 (4% wins and $0.65 ROI)
2013: 5-for-52 (10% wins and $1.16 ROI)

Nick Zito's combined record at Saratoga since 2007: 49-for-523 (9% wins and $0.83 ROI)

The one category where Zito is dangerous is in Claiming races. He's 34-8-6-6 (24% wins and $2.81 ROI)

Todd Pletcher: A trainer who truly needs no introduction. He's the most studied and analyzed trainer at Saratoga. He has the choice two-year-old stock, and he has it in incredible volume.

Over the last five years, Pletcher trained 2-year-old debuters are 47-for-159 (30% wins and $2.22 ROI) at Saratoga. And when they're bet to odds-on favoritism in a race originally scheduled for the dirt, they're 15-14-0-1 (93% wins)

The most ideal time to play against Pletcher trained horses are when they're exiting a win. Saratoga bettors tend to go overboard on Pletcher's runners who are exiting a win. Since 2007, they're just 194-41-28-32 (21% wins and $1.29 ROI) And in stakes races, they're just 141-31-19-23 (22% wins and $1.10 ROI)

George Weaver: A former Todd Pletcher assistant, Weaver horses generally come to Saratoga well prepared and outrun their odds. Throughout his training career, Weaver is 77-for-499 (15% wins and $2.18 ROI) at The Spa.

Weaver is especially tough in Route races, where he's 43-for-266 (16% wins and $2.50 ROI) However, much like with his protege Pletcher, you want to try and avoid Weaver when his entrant is coming in off of a win. Indeed, Weaver trained Route horses exiting a win are just 2-for-43 with a $0.92 ROI.

* Phil Serpe: Buried at the bottom of this scouting report is good old Phil Serpe. Over the last 20 seasons at Saratoga, Serpe has posted a record of 79-for-636 (12.4% wins and $2.15 ROI)

Even though they don't always quite get there for the win, Serpe's barn usually comes alive at Saratoga. He's had 3 straight seasons with a profitable ROI at Saratoga. He's also had 5 straight seasons where his dirt horses have yielded a profitable ROI.

Coming off a Belmont Spring meet where his barn went just 28-1-5-5 ...his horses shouldn't be easily overlooked when they appear competitive, at the Spa.