Delaware Park Handicappers’ Notebook 2022 Vol. 20

Correspondent Mike Valiante shares his weekly Delaware Park Handicappers’ Notebook, featuring horses to watch, bet-backs, and more.

Each week he’ll give you the skinny on how the races are unfolding, which horses overcame the bias (or profited from it), and who had troubled trips. Plus, he’ll provide trainer and jockey of the week picks, and much more.

Notable races and trips

October 5 – October 8

There was no turf racing, but despite disparate track conditions throughout the week, the dirt surface played very fair. Eight of the races were won by horses who led at the first call. Thirteen races were won by horses who were stalking (beating half the field) at the first call. Eleven of the races were won by horses who trailed more than half the field at the first call. This was the second week in a row where the yearlong speed bias was not dominant.

  • Thankful for the blue-collar horse
    Bemoan racing’s lack of high-end, sticking-around stars? No, thanks. Be thankful, instead, for the blue-collar horses that are the spine of the industry.

October 6

Race 1: Longshot winners are more common in contentious, high-quality races and low-level claiming races. This maiden $5,000 claiming race is the lowest condition run at Delaware Park. The winner Heleonortiz went off at 19.50-1, the highest odds in this very weak field. The 14 1/4-length victory can be attributed more to the competition than any particular strength of the winner.

Race 6: This was a very strong never-won-four allowance/optional $32,000 claiming field. It included three runners that were competitive in stakes. In the PPs of the field were running lines that included classy competitors like Provocateur, Jaxon Traveler, Weyburn, Scaramouche and Gunite to name a few. The winner, Gran Runner likes the track and distance, but there will be a lot of winning in the future from others in this field.

October 8

Race 4: An extra point goes to Marcel, who overcame a bad start to win. It wasn’t the strongest of fields, so he will likely need another bottom-level race when he tries winners next time out. Kudos to jockey Alexander Crispin, who did not panic after the bad start.

Jockey and Trainer of the Week

Jockey Daniel Centeno had three wins in just 12 mounts last week, and for the seventeenth consecutive year has exceeded the two-million-dollar mark in purse money. 

Trainer Jamie Ness also had three wins from 12 entries. More impressively, 11 of his horses finished in the money (a 92% strike rate). His in the money percentage at Delaware for the year stands at 72%.

Handicappers’ Toolbox

When handicapping horses who have made one to three starts, the following maxims have historically held true.

For good trainers a jump in speed figures in the second start is quite common. I know many handicappers who only play horses with one start, as opposed to the first-time starters.

The drop in class from maiden special weight to maiden claiming is a huge class drop.

Breeding is important, especially on the turf or slop, but for middle and low claiming horses, most will generally show you who they are early on. After the third start on a particular surface, you should put much more emphasis on past performances over bloodlines. 

Pay attention to how trainers do with first-time starters or two-year-olds. For example trainer Anthony Pecoraro has 13 winners for the meet. Ten of those have been in races for two-year-olds. Trainer Jamie Ness’s win percentage for two-year-olds both overall (13%) and at the meet (15%) while strong, is significantly lower than his 27% overall win rate.