Preparing for Saratoga 2024

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“Prior Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance.” That old saw, with a minor tweak, is applicable to horse players preparing for the upcoming Saratoga Thoroughbred meeting and, for that matter, any day of racing. For horse players, Prior Proper Preparation Promotes Profitability.

A Different Approach

Our approach to preparation for the Saratoga season is a tad different. The fact is that the “live” odds board reflects everything everyone sees in past performances and everything they think they know about a race. For example, odds reflect the fact that Pletcher, Brown and Linda Rice will vie for the trainer title. We prepare in a way which focuses on identifying what is often not reflected in the odds: trainer intent and prior race replays. 

Preparation for Saratoga Begins with Book 1

The Belmont at Saratoga Festival proved a phenomenal success in several areas. But in my view, it did more than any series of marketing promotions to whet the appetite of the nation’s handicappers and bettors for this upcoming full Saratoga race meet. The NYRA took advantage of the momentum they created and published its Book 1 Saratoga Condition Book immediately after the recent festival. As we have noted before, and with respect, Condition Books for race meets are to trainers and owners, as Bibles are to Evangelical and Fundamental Christians. And if the Condition Book is important to them, it oughta be important to handicappers. Preparation for the 2024 Saratoga meeting begins with the publication of Book 1. 

 (Download Book 1 at

It is a given that every owner/trainer/jockey wants to win a race at Saratoga. Trainers and owners intending to race at Saratoga are currently poring over Book 1 to identify horses in their barns which “fit” the race Conditions and are eligible to run. Intention is the operative word. Trainer intent is more important at Saratoga than any other meet. For example, in five of the last six opening day Books, the racing Secretary wrote the opening day first race a 9-furlong dirt race for claiming horses. It is no surprise, then, that a similar race is the first race for 2024:

Book 1 opening day race 1 -5.

This race condition appeals to New York-based and out-of-town trainers planning to ship into Saratoga. They will pursue a better share of a $50k purse with runners they believe capable of going 9-furlongs around two-turns but risk losing to the claim box for a $20k claiming tag.  

This is a race which trainers could anticipate well in advance of Book 1. Once entries are drawn, the Overnight published, and past performances generated, current form is there for all to see. However, a few entrants’ current form will be hidden, darkened or “dirtied up.” These runners will not look good on paper. I guarantee you several runners from trainers with stock eligible for this race have been prepped over turf, at shorter distances versus tougher rivals, placed in situations where they have been hopelessly overmatched, rested and returning from layoffs. The intent, however, is this spot because trainers knew such a race would be available. 

First Principle of Preparation for Saratoga

The first principle of preparation for Saratoga is understanding trainer intent: to do so, ask yourself questions of trainers and past performances: 

 “Why is this horse entered in this spot?” 

“What is the context of this horse’s previous races? How does it fit in this spot?”

“What changes today might signal an improved effort at odds is probable and possible?”

If understanding trainer intent is the first principle of preparation, watching replays of previous races is the second principle. Every race in which a horse runs is a data point in a long-term racing cycle. Horses dynamically move into and out of race-fit form. Earlier I mentioned hidden, darkened or “dirtied up” form, an effort in a race which is, on its face, a poor effort but can be viewed as “better than looks.” I am talking about the subtle negative aspects of previous races missed or understated by Chart Callers. Additionally, examining the last two or three races at different distances, versus higher classes, over different surfaces, seeking evidence that today’s situation is better for this horse. The only way to find clues to hidden form is by investing time watching race replays. 

Wizard’s race watching and trip note shorthand and glossary

Below are The Wizard’s race watching and trip note shorthand and glossary of terms:


Good Trip/Bad Bet Next:

  1. HHPT – hedge-hugging pocket trip
  2. LOL – lose on the lead
  3. BDDW – behind duelists doing dirty work
  4. RL TRP – ground saving trip

Bad Trip/Good Bets Next: 

  1. Wide/SloPa – raced wide versus a slow pace
  2. WDuel – won duel/lost war
  3. OP/Rsh – off poorly/ rushed up
  4. Hrd Hld- hard held and rated into submission
  5. RR/LBid – rated, restrained/late bid
  6. Vice – raced in the vice between rivals
  7. Sbk – shuffled back 
  8. No Pace – closer in a no-pace race
  9. Wide Trns – wide trip both turns


  1. NLC – no lead change
  2. DOL – drifted out lane
  3. BIL – bore in lane
  4. Hard ridden early
  5. Put to the whip early
  6. Rank
  7. Greenly
  8. Poor action
  9. Flashing tail
  10. Accelerated
  11. Galloped out well/poorly

Prior Proper Preparation Promotes Profitability. Download the Saratoga 2024 Book 1 Condition Book. Book yourself a regular time to watch replays and take notes of previous races. Make seeking out trainer intent and hidden form part of your handicapping regimen.


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