We have yet to hear “Play Ball” this spring.
But one magical term continues to resonate through the betting landscape.
Although coronavirus shut down Atlantic City casinos, most major sports, and much of the sports betting in New Jersey, horse racing continues to run a schedule extensive enough to keep NJ bettors engaged.
The Sport of Kings is running without live spectators and some tracks have shut down for a while.
But a Thursday-Sunday schedule still offers racing from:
- Gulfstream Park in Florida
- Tampa Bay in Florida
- Oaklawn in Arkansas
- Remington Park in Oklahoma
- Los Alamitos in California
The COVID 19 era unfurls its sets of complications, to be sure.
The Daily Racing Form, a bible of pre-race preparation, may not be available in its usual physical form, at stores. But one can register via its website and purchase a form online.
You can also tune in to the pre-racing handicapping shows offered at many tracks for free via their websites for horse betting information, tips, and strategies.
Replays of race cards constitute both entertainment and education.
Here is an overview of the tracks that are running and what they provide.
Gulfstream Park: Rites of spring
Gulfstream Park just began its spring meet, with a twist.
The track is the focal point of American racing from January through March. It hosts a string of stakes races and the Florida Derby, which was run March 28. The Championship Meet ended March 29.
Traditionally, top jockeys depart for Keenelend when Gulfstream’s championship meet ends. But Keeneland canceled its spring meet. Churchill Downs also postponed the Kentucky Derby from May 2 until Sept. 5.
So some of the jockeys will stay put and participate in the spring schedule at Gulfstream Park. Top names like Luis Saez and Tyler Gaffalione are riding.
Yes, the purses are smaller in the spring meet, but there will be a convenience factor some jockeys and trainers will take advantage of. They are already on the grounds. There is no need to travel.
The spring meet opened with a bang. On Saturday, the first-race, $2 exacta paid $146 and the $1 trifecta returned more than $1,200. The $1 superfecta exceeded $14,0000.
In race five, two 30-1 shots came in for a $926 exacta. The even-money shot ran third and the $1 trifecta paid $1,112. The $1 superfecta paid more than $12,000.
Pattern? One of the favorites ran well in these races, one ran out of the money and longshots finished in the second, third and fourth spots.
Gulfstream runs Thursdays through Sundays. The first post is 1 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Sunday. It is 12:45 p.m. on Saturdays.
Oaklawn Park: Moves Arkansas Derby
Oaklawn races Thursdays through Sunday at 2:05 p.m.
This has been an interesting track, providing high-level races like the Rebel Stakes and Arkansas Derby. In 2015, eventual Triple Crown winner American Pharoah began his Eclipse-award winning season by winning these two races.
Programming note. Oaklawn has moved its Arkansas Derby showcase race back to May 2. This was the scheduled race of the Kentucky Derby, now moved to Sept. 5. Oaklawn is thus taking its premier event and running it on the closing day.
There’s a sizzling battle unfolding for the riding title here, which jockeys take seriously. Besides any financial incentives, which vary, a riding title for the meet confers status and improves their subsequent ability to ride top horses for leading trainers.
Joseph Talamo led the pack with 37 wins heading into the weekend. Ricardo Santana was hot on his heels with 36, while David Cohen tallied 35 and Martin Garcia had 34.
This is more than an exciting race to watch.
It’s an angle for bettors to wager into. There’s a good chance that these jockeys will be aboard competitive horses. There’s also a good chance that some of the horses will be overbet based on ownership connections.
Robertino Diodoro and Steven Asmussen were the leading trainers heading into April.
Tampa Bay: Four days most weeks
Tampa Bay Downs has a post time of 12:25 p.m., which occasionally varies by a couple of minutes on different days.
The Florida track runs Wednesdays and then Friday-Sun until May 3. (There is no racing on April 12). The April 8 post time is 12:30 p.m.
The track has enough interest for bettors to sink their teeth into. Weekend events have good-sized fields and the level of racing, often between claiming $10-20,000, isn’t bad.
The horses in most of these events have at least won a race. But none are world beaters. That means a horse can wake up one day, improve slightly and win with a good price.
Sammy Camacho and Jesus Castanon are leading jockeys.
Remington Park: Short but sweet
Remington Park in Oklahoma gains enhanced viewership, and potential betting, during this period.
Most of the races range from 250 to 400 yards.
There is a bit of a handicapping variable with the longer races, which may involve handling a turn.
In the shorter races, the break is everything. Practically the entire race. Winning times for Sunday’s 300-yard races were in the vicinity of 16 seconds.
An interesting variable to consider is post positions in the short races. In Sunday’s case, the middle of the track produced the best results. The rail position did not win a single race.
Keep an eye on the extreme outside posts as well. There is no jostling if a horse breaks and rears to the right. The easiest path to the finish line comes from the outside positions.
Remington starts at 7 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. on Sundays.
Los Alamitos: Weekend warriors
Racing runs on the weekends, usually at 8 p.m.
Los Alamitos has a bit more than Remington to its platform. A good number of races are 4 1-2 furlongs or 870 yards. One distance is just shorter than half a mile, one is a bit longer.
Unlike the Remington Park events, in which the break is everything, races of this distance mean that handling the turn is significant. It is important not to lose a couple of lengths around the turn because it can’t usually be recovered.
Early speed from the inside post and good positioning from the middle posts are important. A rallying horse posted outside is in trouble.
Of course, that’s just the general overview. There are exceptions.
Horse racing provides an invitation to play different tracks within one’s own budget and time frame.