Saratoga Recap: Pletcher, Dominguez Leading Way at Spa

© Cheryl Quigley |

We are 22 days into the 40 day Saratoga meeting, and there have been few surprises along the way as trainer Todd Pletcher and jockey Ramon Dominguez are leading the way.

Pletcher actually got off to a slow start at the meeting, and after the first six days of the meeting the trainer had just two wins with his first 27 starters.

But we knew that was not going to continue, and through Monday he now sits atop the trainers standings with 20 winners from 81 starters, winning at a 25% clip.

He is doing it with his two-year-olds, which have won 14 of 35 races (40%). Pletcher’s juvenile first time starters are hitting at an astounding 42% clip (11 for 26).

Dominguez picked up four more wins on Sunday and now has 39 winners at the meeting, with Javier Castellano and Jose Lezcano looking a long way up with 21 winners each.

John Velazquez, who won the riding title here last year with 54 winners has 15 so far this year, which puts him in a tie for seventh place. The jockey missed the first few days of the meeting recovering from a collarbone injury.

Dominguez was third in the standings last year with 47 winners, a number he may top by weeks end.

Trainer Chad Brown had an outstanding meeting last year, winning 22 races from 73 starters (29%) and he again looks as if he is the biggest challenger to Pletcher.

This meeting he has 14 winners from 49 starters, hitting at a 29% win clip.

A look in the Daily Racing Form and we see Brown hits at just an 8% clip overall with his first time starters. However, here at the Spa going back five years the barn has hit at a 22% rate. With juvenile firsters, the number goes even higher, hitting 26%.

However, this summer Brown is just 1 for 9 with two-year-old first timers.

This meet Brown has done his best work on turf. A total of 10 of his 14 winners have come on grass, hitting at a 32% clip overall.

Cold as Ice

So who are some of the trainers not hitting at Pletcher/Brown like numbers?

There are  a few trainers that have surprisingly low numbers so far at the meeting, including Wesley Ward, who has won with just 2 of his 32 starters.

Other trainers having a subpar meet include Mike Maker (2 for 29), Bruce Brown (2 for 35), Nick Zito (2 for 29), D. Wayne Lukas (0 for 26), Michael Matz (1 for 17), and Graham Motion (2 for 21).

On the jockey side, Rosie Napravnik ended a 0 for 47 slide with a stakes win, but is sitting at just 7%, while Jose Espinoza continues to be as frigid as I have seen a jockey in New York, currently 0 for 32 at the meeting after going 3 for 110 at the last Belmont Park meet.

Handle Up at Spa

Nationwide wagering on Saratoga races remains up compared to 2011 through the first 22 days of the 40-day meet, despite wet weekend weather which caused 13 of 17 scheduled turf races to be moved to the main track from Friday through Sunday.

All-sources handle, which includes wagers on Saratoga races both on-track and from simulcast facilities across the country, was $310,065,500, up 6.5 percent from $291,181,532 in 2011, according to The New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA).

Average betting interests per race were 8.3 (1,891 total) compared to 8.4 (1,835 total) in 2011.  There have been 93 turf races and 26 races taken off the turf and moved to the main track, compared to 92 on and 17 off in 2011.

Hot at the Spa on Monday

I had four winners on top on Monday including longshot Synthesizer, who returned $40.80. I had the winners on top in races three through five, combining for a Pick 3 that returned $526.00.

Michael Dempsey provides his selections for Saratoga each racing day.  Mike’s Best Plays Report is available each weekend, with his strongest plays and selections including the top stakes races.

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