It takes a special sort of hubris to invoke a quote from one form of media to prove another quote from another form of media is true, but it’s a task I’m undertaking in this column.
The early-2010’s TV show “Luck” was, of course, set at the racetrack. Trainer Turo Escalante (based on longtime California mainstay Julio Canani) responded to a question about if he was a gambler or a trainer with a question of his own.
“Who told you if you were one, they throw you out for being the other?”
Many people associate gambling on horses with parimutuel wagering. Trainers, however, gamble in their own ways. They peruse condition books, monitor their horses on a day-to-day basis, and spot their charges in certain races for various reasons.
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Each trainer has their own quirks and tendencies, and it’s worth noting when some of those trends play out over weeks, months, or even years. Some get identified with one particular circuit or racetrack and stay there for decades. For instance, Jonathan Sheppard won at least one race every summer at Saratoga for 47 years. Rusty Arnold had a similar streak at Keeneland that lasted several decades, too.
This isn’t an accident, and these happen in less noticeable ways, too. Over time, trainers will reveal trends, good and bad, and astute handicappers will be able to identify the intent of each conditioner, in each spot, with a bit more clarity.
Using Saratoga as an example is easy to do. Some trainers can ship in with aplomb, take down large purses on big stages, and go home. Others, not so much. Saffie Joseph, Jr., won one race (an off-the-turf event) very early in the 2021 season, and didn’t find the Saratoga winner’s circle again all summer. Mark Casse, one of the most respected horsemen in North America, went through an 0-for-48 stretch in 2018. Gary Sciacca, who’s been around the New York circuit forever, was 0-for-69 at Saratoga from 2016 until Labor Day in 2018.
There are any number of reasons for a barn to be hot or cold. Many of those reasons are rather boring. In some instances, a trainer’s horses may be running well, finishing second or third, and just not getting up for the win money. Other times, form from one track or circuit doesn’t carry over to another. Mid-level claiming races might be significantly tougher at Saratoga or Belmont than Monmouth or Parx.
Trainers matter. Trainer intent matters. Being able to spot trends matters, and being able to capitalize when you see an opportunity to make money matters. Why bet a favorite from a big-name barn if that big-name barn is 1-for-20 at the stand?
Handicapping and wagering is as much about which horses to avoid as it is which ones to bet. Figuring out the trainers at certain tracks takes some time, and you may incur some bumps along the way. However, the lessons you learn as a handicapper during this process are invaluable, and ones that can pave the way for nice scores if they’re applied correctly.
Check Out Rule #5 – Never Bet a Horse Just on This Factor