Trainers Who Heat Up in Winter at Aqueduct, Gulfstream, Fair Grounds

Trainers Rudy Rodriguez, left, and Joe Sharp, right, historically have fared well at the winter meets at Aqueduct and Fair Grounds, respectively. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Unlike professional sports, there’s no down time in horse.

Winter, spring, summer, and fall, there’s action. Only the venues change as horsemen flock to warmer climates or give their horses a much-deserved vacation from the races.

Being creatures of habits, trainers generally follow the same script from year to year. They become comfortable in certain locations, know the condition books inside and out there, and are skilled at picking out the right horses for those races.

While it doesn’t mean you can carve out a flat-profit by wagering on all of these trainers’ starters, a look at past numbers should paint a picture of the meet’s most reliable horsemen.

So, for this week and the next, let’s take a look at the results of the recent major winter meets and see which trainers excel where.

We’ll start with the two East Coast tracks, Aqueduct and Gulfstream, plus Fair Grounds, which is already underway.

At Aqueduct, the dawn of winter means Todd Pletcher and Chad Brown give everyone else a chance to rack up wins. New York’s leading trainers in spring, summer, and fall have a presence at Aqueduct but it is greatly reduced.

Instead, the “King of Winter Racing” in the Big Apple is Rudy Rodriguez. In Aqueduct races from Dec. 7, 2016 through Nov. 30, 2018, he has compiled 146 wins at the “Big A.”

That puts him 26 ahead of Linda Rice, who has 120, and you can expect big numbers from them this winter as both are planning to race a large stable in New York.

So that no one forgets them, Brown and Pletcher are next on the win list with 62 and 54 wins, respectively. But 23 of Brown’s wins came on turf, which will not come into play again until spring arrives.

Behind them is Jeremiah Englehart with 46 and judging by results earlier in the year, he’s a candidate to have an even better winter campaign in New York.

In Florida, it’s Pletcher’s world and welcome to it.

The seven-time Eclipse Award winner owns an incredible streak of 15 straight training titles at Gulfstream Park’s championship meet and with Pletcher stabling roughly 100 horses in the Miami area this winter, No. 16 seems inevitable.

Last year, Pletcher almost lapped the field, winning 70 races. Jorge Navarro and Mike Maker were next with 36 and it would be not be a surprise if the 2019 trifecta involves those three again.

Overall, Pletcher had a 32-percent winning percentage, taking 70 of 221 starts, while Navarro won at a 22-percent clip and Maker at 18 percent.

While turf racing is not Pletcher’s forte, he won with a very respectable 25 percent of his starters on Gulfstream’s grass course.

Maker led all trainers in turf wins at Gulfstream last year, accumulating 34 victories in 171 starts (20 percent).

If you read into those numbers, it shows that Maker had dismal results on the main track, to say the least. He had only two wins from 30 starts on dirt for a lowly 7-percent win percentage.

A high-percentage trainer to watch is Jason Servis, who won 18 of his 53 starts and at 34 percent had a better winning percentage than Pletcher. Like Maker, Servis did his best work on the turf course, winning 16 of 37 starts (43 percent).

Fair Grounds marked the start of a big 2018 for Brad Cox, who won the training title there with 53 victories. Next was Joe Sharp, who had 49 wins and was Cox’s main competition for the title.

Volume played a role in Cox’s title, but he also won a solid rate of 30 percent, winning 53 of 179 races.

Behind Cox and Sharp were Tom Amoss (37), Al Stall Jr. (29), Bret Calhoun (28) and Michael Stidham (22).

Amoss had the best winning percentage of that group with a mark of 29 percent.

That past form is already taking hold at the New Orleans track as Cox is tied for second with Stidham, each with five wins. They are one win behind current leader Ron Faucheux. Sharp is fourth with four wins.

As for next week, we’ll take a look at Santa Anita and Oaklawn Park.

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