Monmouth Experts Share Advice on Playing ‘Shore’s Greatest Stretch’

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Fans search the program for a winner while handicapping the races at Monmouth Park in this file photo. (Penelope P. Miller/America's Best Racing)

The 2021 Monmouth Park racing season is in full swing. The Oceanport, N.J. track launched its meet Memorial Day weekend, and Monmouth is scheduled to have live racing every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday for the rest of the summer.

Larry Collmus (Eclipse Sportswire)

For some insight on playing the “Shore’s Greatest Stretch,” we sat down with Larry Collmus, the voice of the Triple Crown on NBC, the on-air analyst for Monmouth on TVG, and the announcer at Monmouth from 1994 to 2013 (@larrycollmus); Eric Solomon (@ericsolomon718), the Monmouth Park handicapper for In the Money Media; and longtime Monmouth track handicapper Brad Thomas (@bradshadesoff).

For you, what is the most attractive part of playing Monmouth Park?

Larry: I think it's the combination of both competitive races and some easier-to-handicap races. It gives you the chance to spread multi-race bets and still be affordable.

Eric: For as long as I can remember, I’ve looked forward to the summer racing at Monmouth Park. As a fan and a horseplayer, the most attractive part about playing Monmouth Park is that they genuinely care about the product they are putting out. Under the leadership of Dennis Drazen and the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, Monmouth Park has tried different ideas to keep the track relevant through challenging times over the past several years. This is refreshing in an era where many racinos aren’t really committed to putting out a quality racing product or where big racing conglomerates scoop up tracks, but are more concerned about the value of the land for uses other than racing.

Brad: Because it’s not a New York or Kentucky track, there’s a lot of people in the simulcast market who are not as familiar with it. They don’t follow it that closely. A higher percentage of people who play major tracks are paying close attention, whereas a lot of people who play Monmouth are just playing it because of a stakes or a carryover. As such, people who do follow it regularly have a significant edge. The same is true for a lot of smaller tracks.

Have you observed any trends on either the dirt or the grass?

Larry: I think both surfaces seem to have played evenly, however Monmouth Park is not the kindest place to deep closers, especially on dirt.

Eric: Monmouth Park has historically been a dirt track that has been kind to front-end speed, however, for the first month of the meet, I feel the track has played very fair. On most days thus far, horses have been able to win with just about any running style. The same could be said for the turf course so far. I appreciate this as a horseplayer because the races are often run more true to form.

Brad Thomas, right, with Dan Tordjman (Dan Tordjman/America's Best Racing)

Brad: Biases come and go, and I don’t think you can generalize. You have to keep up with them as they go along. For example, earlier in the meet, with all the rain on opening weekend, there were lots of days when speed on the inside was good. When the weather dried up, there were days when the outside was the place to be. Other days, speed was good in sprints, but not so much in routes. Now, over the past few days, speed on the rail has gotten better. Biases are a function of all sorts of things, based on the weather and the composition of the track. On turf, it’s all about how the course is manicured, and what the rail is at. A lot of times, you’ll notice when the grass has clearly been cut, compared to a prior race day. On those days, speed can be good, especially early in the day.

Which jockeys should players keep an eye on?

Larry: I've been impressed with Jose Ferrer who seems to have found the Fountain of Youth at age 57. He puts his horses in the right places and seems to be thriving with the new crop rules. Obviously, talents like Nik Juarez and Paco Lopez are always live and very talented guys.

Eric: Nik Juarez and Paco Lopez are riding regularly for the top outfits and they will continue to get a bunch of wins this year. They’re currently second and third, respectively, in the jockey standings. Jose Ferrer has been off to a torrid start to this meet, currently sitting atop the leaderboard. This should not come as a surprise, as he’s been an underrated rider for years now. Three riders that have impressed me early on in the meet are Isaac Castillo, Tomas Mejia, and Christian Navarro. All three continue to give smart rides and have had many horses outrun their odds in the first part of the meet. Don’t be surprised to see any of those three riders getting more and more opportunities on better horses as the meet continues.

Brad: I’ve been impressed with all the jockeys this year. They’ve done an unbelievably fantastic job under the circumstances. They went from doing one thing their entire careers to completely changing how to do it, without an adjustment period. They’ve done as well as someone possibly could have. The racing has been as good as you can expect to be, given the circumstances, and they’ve been great pioneers. They’ve been unsung heroes this year in dealing with what’s going on.

Paco Lopez is a world-class jockey. He’s in the conversation for best jockey in the country. His stats are accentuated by Monmouth, but he’s fantastic. Jose Ferrer is a physical marvel, to be able to do what he does. He’s in great shape, and when you combine that with his natural talent, smarts, and gained experience, he’s an absolute treat to watch. He knows when to be aggressive, whereas a lot of jockeys are too patient. Isaac Castillo is a very underrated jockey. He’s great on speed horses and has improved over this meet. Jomar Torres is consistent and a good finisher. You get a professional ride from him all the time.

Which Monmouth wagers are the most attractive to you?

Larry: I'm admittedly not someone that bets much, but since working for TVG I've enjoyed trying to put together Pick 4s and Pick 5s. The 50-cent minimum enables you to spread your ticket and give yourself a shot to make a big score.

Eric Solomon

Eric: I love betting the multi-race wagers, and I think the racing office does a great job putting together the sequences for the early and late Pick-5s. As a result, I think these wagers typically pay quite well, usually offering more than what the five-race parlay would net. I also like the carryover rules in New Jersey, where if a Pick 4 or Pick 5 pool isn’t hit, the bulk of the pot carries over to the next sequence. A few Saturdays ago, both the Pick 5 and Pick 4 were not hit, creating a lot of free money in the pool for the early wagers on Sunday.

It’s often easy to get wrapped up in all of the exotics wagering, but I’ve noticed that there’s been a good amount of value betting horses to win so far at this meet. There haven’t been a ton of races where there has been a favorite that has gone off below even money. Even if fields are shorter, the racing has been very competitive and wide open. There’s pretty much at least one race each day where there’s a winner that is going off at a price that is significantly higher than I expected that figure to be.

Brad: I don’t have a favorite wager. The key to success for me is to adjust to the situation, and know when to avoid certain wagers. Once you have a feeling about contenders on a day, then you craft your play based on those picks. In certain situations, it might be a win bet, other times, it’s a Pick 5, other times it’s a superfecta.

The easiest part of racing is the handicapping. The hardest part is the betting. Knowing how to bet is much more important than knowing how to handicap. It’s important to put your handicapping to use, but then take the time to figure how to bet.

Which handicapping angles (i.e. speed figures, recent races, etc.) are working so far?

Larry: I have always been a fan of horses being readied for specific races and tracks. You see a lot of returning regular trainers with N.J. backgrounds who get their horses primed for Monmouth Park. I like to find those and maybe grab a longshot here and there.

Eric: As we move into the fifth week of the meeting, I’m seeing several races with multiple horses that faced each other in their previous start, facing off again a few weeks later. Watching the replays for clues as to what kind of a trip each horse had, is a helpful tool to try to identify value in some of those instances. Sometimes, you’re able to see things that go beyond how the chart caller describes the race, which can put you on some horses that were hindered in their previous efforts.

I also look at trainer trends that are working. Wayne Potts has been doing well with his NYRA shippers that have been dropping in class. On the other hand, Kelly Breen has struggled with his Florida and New York horses that have come to Oceanport off short layoffs.

Brad: There are thousands of reasons why horses win or lose races, and it’s a matter of figuring out which ones are the most important in a given instance. I don’t think in terms of angles; I try to be eclectic. Who was hurt by the pace? Who was hurt by a bias? Who’s coming from a live barn? Who was negatively impacted by their trip last out? Who has a rider that has adjusted to Monmouth well? Who enjoys racing at Monmouth? Those are questions I ask myself in every race, and try to combine them in a race. I think blindly looking at angles tends to limit yourself.

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