Getting in that inner track state of mind

Though the calendar officially says that winter begins on December 21 with the “shortest day of the year” it occurs 20 days before then with regards to racing in New York.  Wednesday is the first day of racing on Aqueduct’s inner track, the winterized oval that has been in use since 1976. 

The inner track is one mile in circumference and the stretch measures a bit more than the 1,155.5 feet of the main track.  The tighter turns have generally led to speed doing a bit better on the inner track than the main track at the Big A but in recent years we’ve seen track superintendent Glen Kozak do a tremendous job in guaranteeing largely bias-free racing on the winterized oval.

What’s different about the winter?  Well, there’s no reason to mince words, the racing is weaker.  The horses that stay in NY for the winter from outfits like that of Todd Pletcher, Kiaran McLaughlin, Shug McGaughey, Bill Mott and many others are the types that don’t really make the grade in Florida or any other winter destination.  Winter racing is heavy on claimers of all types, we’ll see more $7,500 tags in the next four months than we have in the prior eight.  There will be conditioned claimers galore and races will be conducted at basically three distances: 6 furlongs, one mile and 70 yards, and one and one-sixteenth miles, with the first two being more popular.

One thing to be acutely aware of is the age old “inner track horse for course.”  The quirkiness of the inner track, being heavier on sand and elements to fight the weather, really appeals to certain horses and you will get better performances out of them on the winterized surface.  Take a look at Understatement for example, with credit to DRF for his PPs:

In taking a closer look at Understatement you will see that his two best races of 2010, by far, came on the inner track.  He defeated a good group in the Evening Attire, which included Well Positioned, another runner owned by Paul Pompa who most recently scored in a stakes race at Monmouth.  On the inner track Understatement is 4-4, on every other surface in his career he is 1-13.  Take a look at Two Moons, who will go postward in tomorrow’s opener:

  Now, Two Moons is never going to be confused with Understatement.  However, it’s worth noting that she ran two solid races on the inner track last winter.  There are some concerns about whether she’s off form of late, but these are the types of horses you want to give extra consideration when handicapping the inner track, especially when the public considers them outsiders.

Here are some interesting statistics for you to consider going forward:

Linda Rice has a strike rate of 18% with a $2.01 ROI in claiming races on the inner track.  She is 17% with a $1.67 ROI in all races on the inner, so be leary of Rice trainees that are overbet in non-claimers.

Anyone who regularly bet Bruce Levine’s runners in claiming races at last year’s inner track stand was left with empty pockets as spring sprung.  Last year Levine was only 13% with a $0.73 ROI in claiming races on the inner track. 

Dominic Galluscio had a particularly rough 2009-2010 inner track stand with claimers as he went 3-33 with a $0.66 ROI.  He has had a good 2010 and should turn that negative statistic around with ease.

Watch out when Todd Pletcher is dropping maidens in for a tag on the inner track.  He is 6 of his last 12 with this move and went a perfect 3-3 with it during last year’s meet.

Serve notice when Gary Contessa is starting a horse fresh off the claim on the inner track.  Over the last five years he has hit at a 17% clip on the inner track with a $1.46 ROI.  With horses 1st off the claim he’s 37-137 (27%), good for a $2.57 ROI.  The best priced winners in that group were all moving up in class, so pay attention if he shows confidence in a recent claim.

Trainer James Ryerson has had a banner year with his NY starters and it would be wise to pay particular attention to his runners.  For the last calendar year he is hitting at a 15% clip with a $3.40 ROI.

Beware of the “Davids” going short.  When trainer David Jacobson legged up jockey David Cohen in sprints last year they were a potent duo (26%, $2.06) but going two turns they were a very ordinary (19%, $0.68).  Cohen being a good and aggressive jockey out of the gate helped these statistics without question.

Trainer Kelly Breen is supposed to have an increased presence in NY this winter as he split his stable between Gulfstream and Aqueduct.  Note that over the last five years Breen is only 2-61 on the inner track with a paltry $0.31 ROI.  Prior to Bold Union’s win in an overnight stake in December 2009 he was on a 1-58 streak.

If you’re looking for a combo that can put across a bomb or two how about Maylan Studart and Naipaul Chetterpaul, who are 6-24 over the last two inner track meets with a $5.48 ROI?

It’s a stat that’s made up of sheer volume but it seems amazing that trainer Steve Asmussen and jockey Ramon Dominguez hit at a 42% clip when partnered up, good for a $2.37 ROI.  They are an amazing 33-79 together on the inner track!

Some other items to note are that the jockey colony this year has expanded a bit for the winter months.  Junior Alvarado would seem to have a leg up on Eurico Rosa de Silva as he has been riding regularly in NY since the beginning of the fall meet.  Both are strong riders who have had success on major circuits in the past.  Cornelio Velasquez will be staying in NY for the winter for the first time in nearly a decade and you can be certain he’ll pick up a great deal of Linda Rice’s business that used to go to Rosie Napravnik, who is spending this winter at Fair Grounds.  Eddie Castro is also riding regularly here and he has had success on the inner track in the past.

One thing to note about handicapping/betting the inner track is that the word “bias” is going to be tossed around readily by many people following the circuit.  The essential elements of a bias, as stated by NYRA handicapper Andy Serling on this blog a little over a year ago are: “Biases are determined when horses overachieve while taking advantage of the bias and conversely horses underachieve when against the bias.”  Thus, when three solid favorites win in wire-to-wire fashion to begin a given card, don’t throw your hands up and say, “There’s a bias.”

I’ll be back each Monday to recap the prior week’s races, specifically with regard to how the inner track played, who may have made a splash that week, and who is currently struggling to make the grade.  Until Monday then, embrace the winter racing that we’ll be treated to for the next four months as the opportunities to cash big tickets abound.

Nick Tammaro can be reached at


One Response to “Getting in that inner track state of mind”

  1. Peter Boland Says:


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