Course Guide: Golden Gate Fields

US expert Peter T Fornatale takes a close look at the stats and trends behind the California venue.

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Golden Gate Fields is a picturesque racetrack in Northern California, whose western border abuts a rocky promontory on the eastern shoreline of San Francisco Bay, affording a glorious view of the Golden Gate bridge, Alcatraz, and the San Francisco skyline. It opened in 1941 but was quickly taken over by the U.S. military, where during World War 2 it was used to store landing craft used for the war in the Pacific. Over the years, Golden Gate has hosted racing greats including Citation, Noor, Silky Sullivan, John Henry, Lost In The Fog, and Shared Belief.

Believe it or not, Golden Gate holds a place in the history of American literature as well: in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, Sal and Remi visit the oval, busting out before the end of the card.

These days, the track is owned by the Stronach Group and is the only major track in Northern California. Its racing is second-class to its sister track Santa Anita, in Los Angeles, but its importance has risen since early 2019 given the various issues with the Santa Anita surface. There isn’t much is the way of top-class racing, with no Grade 1 or Grade 2 events, but they do run three Grade 3 races and plenty of listed and California-bred stakes. Among the graded races is the California Derby, won in 2019 by the Bob Baffert-trained Kingly (replay below).

 
RACING SCHEDULE

This is a bit out the window for 2020 for obvious reasons, but typically Golden Gate runs a Spring meet from Boxing Day to mid-June and another meet in the fall from mid-October through mid-December. They typically race Thursday through Sunday, roughly starting at 9pm GMT and carrying on until the small hours of the morning.
 

THE COURSES

There is a one-mile round synthetic surface composed of Tapeta, and a nine-tenths of a mile turf surface. On both courses, races run at a mile or over are conducted around two turns, sprints are run around one turn. Like nearly all North American races, Golden Gate runs left-handed.

 
TOP JOCKEYS, TRAINERS AND SIRES

Except where noted, the stats in this piece were compiled with the help of self-professed “numbers geek,” and regular contributor to inthemoneypodcast.com, John Camardo. They were compiled from January of 2019 through the start of the current meet in May 2020.

Where possible, two stats we like to track are ROI (return on investment, looking at what happen if you wagered a dollar via the tote on every mount), and IV (Impact Value, how often connections win compared to have often they “should” win, as implied by the odds. When evaluating ROI, keep in mind that any number over $0.85 should be considered a positive result, in the sense that $0.15 is taken out of every wagering dollar via the tote pools. If you’re “beating the takeout,” you are doing very well. With Impact Values, a number of 1.0 means something happens exactly as much as it should, with negative numbers indicating they don’t happen as often as they should and positive values indicating just the opposite.

 

JOCKEYS

William Antongeorgi III and Juan Hernandez are the top jockeys in terms of mounts, with Hernandez winning at a much higher percentage (23 percent to his rival’s 17.5 percent).

Looking through these lenses, blindly betting either top jock will not surprisingly yield a significant loss – 36 cents on the dollar in Hernandez’s case and 44 cents with Antongeorgi. But it’s significant that in a sample of 1000+ races, Hernandez wins at almost 27% where his odds suggest he should only win 23% of the time. He is worth something in your form analysis, even if the market has cottoned on to him – much more on Hernandez later on when we get to specific betting angles.

Another regular rider who wins more than he “should,” according to the odds, is Catalino Martinez, whose impact value of 1.16 is equal to that of Hernandez. Once again, though, the crowd is on to him is that you’d lose 30 cents for every dollar wagered blindly.

Two other regular riders to note in terms of impact value are Julien Couton (1.06 IV), and Frank Alvarado (1.05 IV).

Speaking of Couton, his TURF only numbers are outstanding: 17 percent winners, 1.11 IV, $1.07 ROI.

Another turf jock of note – whom I believe is now riding downstate mostly – is Abel Cedillo: 30 percent winners, 1.33 IV, $0.86. It will be interesting to see if he ends up riding at all at GG and seems like one to watch on the turf at Santa Anita this meet as well.
 

Data up to 14th May 2020

 

TRAINERS

In terms of overall wins, the leading trainer at Golden Gate is a one-horse walkover for Jonathan Wong. In our sample, he notched 194 wins, more than a century clear of his nearest pursuer. His horses win percentage of 26.5 percent is just a hair more than they are supposed to (his IV is 1.01) but a flat bet scheme during our sample would lose you 46 cents on the dollar. All of this suggests that his horses win, and they win a lot, but he doesn’t deliver with longer priced horses and/or the U.S. wagering public bets him too heavily. He’s a trainer you’ll want to oppose when there’s a good reason to, and one to keep on side when there is not. Obviously, Wong is a trainer you need to be aware of if you’re playing Golden Gate.

Second a long way by wins but better in terms of the advanced metrics is Isidro Tamayo. Tamayo’s IV is an impressive 1.09 and his ROI is $0.57, a few pennies ahead of Wong.

Looking over the full array of stats from Golden Gate, one conditioner who stands out is Ellen Jackson. She’s 23 for 157 in our sample but her IV is a big 1.29 and you’d have made a flat-bet profit betting each of her mounts ($1.09 ROI). This is interesting. Perhaps sexism plays a role in the market underrating her? Whatever the reason, her horses deserve an extra glance.

Other trainers who come out well relative to their peers on our advanced metrics are Manuel Badilla (1.29 IV, $0.76 ROI), Ari Herbertson (1.24 IV and $0.84), Steve Miyadi (1.21 IV and $0.78), Quinn Howey (1.2 IV and $0.78), Jack Steiner (1.19 IV and $0.75), Jamey Thomas (1.16 IV and $0.70), and Andreas Psarras (1.15 IV and $0.99).

Looking at TURF only, John Martin stands out – albeit in a small sample – 6 for 22 with a big IV (1.65) and a terrific $1.05 ROI. I’m inclined to upgrade him on the green.
 

Data up to 14th May 2020

  
SIRES

(Thanks to database expert and successful contest player Jim Sebes for help with this section, which he put together with the assistance of a computer program called HTR. I owe you a Van Winkle bourbon.)

Being one of the few synthetic surfaces in American racing, and the only one where you’ll see a lot of Cal-bred sires, it seemed worth delving a little deeper into Sire stats for Golden Gate (SYNTH only).

In terms of sheer numbers, Vronsky (16% win rate) and Comic Strip (14% win rate) have sired the most winners at Golden Gate during our sample but, if anything, there is negative signal with that information as the ROI for these sires’ progeny is just $0.72 and $0.70 respectively. The market seems to overrate them.

Desert Code looks an interesting sire to keep an eye on. His strike rate is a solid 15 percent and his ROI is $0.94 in a 107-runner sample.

Munnings’ runners seem to do well everywhere and over any surface so his strong mark makes sense: 37 percent winners with a fantastic $1.37 ROI.

More interesting is Clubhouse Ride – 24 percent strike rate, $0.94 ROI, and his success has been particularly notable with first-time starters, where he is 3 from 8. (This might not be a stat that goes forward but we thought it notable that trainer William Delia is 7 for 12 with Clubhouse Ride-sired horses.

Speaking of firsters, it’s notable that Northern Causeway is 0 for 13 with them and just 4 percent overall with a $0.27 ROI.

Here is a list of sires who win at 20 percent AND have an ROI above $0.85 (minimum 5 winners):

Clubhouse Ride, Gemologist, Munnings, Cyclotron, Violence, Northern Indy, Forest Command, Paynter, Temple City, Silic, Dandy Man, Richard’s Kid, Uh Oh Bango, I Am Invincible, Minseshaft, Ifraaj, Shanghai Bobby, Point of Entry, Afleet Alex, Mucho Macho Man, Exchange Rate, Angus.

Conclusion: The crowd thinks it knows more about synthetic breeding than it does. Many top/famous sires seem routinely overbet. We see this in the win percentage and ROI of Vronsky and Comic Strip and also some of the weak ROI numbers from “famous” sires like Kitten’s Joy, Lucky Pulpit, and Gio Ponti. It all comes down to the individual horse, of course, but you’re better off leaning on the list of horses above when torn. 

 
SPEED FIGURE PARS

The Beyer Speed Figures are the gold standard in speed figures. They are available from Daily Racing Form. The numbers presented below were arrived at with the help of professional horseplayer Sean Boarman, who has been making his own Beyer-style figures for 15 years.

For three-year-old males and up, the average winning figure of a maiden special weight is 71. Bottom-level maiden claimers for the same runners typically go in a 54. Bottom-level open claiming winners also typically run a 71. First-level allowance winners typically run an 80. High level allowance horses run around 90. Listed stakes caliber types are more likely to run around a 96. Grade 3 stakes – the highest level run at Golden Gate – usually earn around a 100 speed figure.

As a general rule, you can adjust your pars down for fillies and mares (7 pts), state-breds (5 pts), and on a sliding scale for younger three-year-olds and two-year-olds (the younger the runners, the slower the figures).

 
POST POSITIONS

(Stats in this section come from our friends at STATS Race Lens and were filtered by STATS power user Matt Vagvolgyi)

TURF ROUTES

As noted above, turf routes (races at one mile and above) are run around two turns. This would make one think that the inside draws would be advantaged. If anything, the crowd might be overvaluing the importance of the inside gate. Horses breaking from the one gate win 15% of the time and on average lose 32 cents per dollar. If you look at the one through three gates collectively, the news improves: a 17% strike rate coupled with a 22-cent loss per dollar wagered.

As for the outer draws, they are tricky. In a small sample, not one of 24 starters drawn 10 or higher managed to win. You’ll have to be much the best to win from out there.

Conclusion: Simple logic tells us it’s a good thing to be drawn inside when you’re racing on a tight, two-turn cost, but the rail draw itself doesn’t seem advantaged in our sample so don’t overrate it.

Be wary of runners drawn 10 or higher.

 
TURF SPRINTS

They don’t run a ton of turf sprints at Golden Gate but it is notable that in our sample, contrary to what I would have guessed, the rail draw appears disadvantaged. It’s only a 38-start sample but rail runners have struck at just 8% and lost 82 cents per dollar wagered. Compare this with the inside posts in aggregate winning at 16% and only losing 29 cents per dollar. From gate 4 out, all runners win at 13 and lose 49% cents per dollar. This is something to keep an eye on going forward.

Conclusion: Small sample size caveats apply but the inside gate may be a disadvantage and runners in the 2 and 3 gates may have a little edge.

 
ALL-WEATHER ROUTES

The inside gate does fine, clicking at 15% and yielding a loss of 36 cents on the dollar. Looking at the 1-3 posts collectively, we find an identical win percentage and an improvement in ROI to a loss of 25 cents on the dollar. Horses drawn 8 and up have fared worse on a percentage basis as the math would dictate (11%) and have lost a similar amount per dollar as the rail runners (minus .40).

Conclusion: Once again, it’s good to be drawn inside but the rail itself might be overrated by the crowd. You can win from anywhere, but are marginally better off being drawn 8 or lower.
 

ALL-WEATHER SPRINTS

Here, the stats for the one gate and the one through three in aggregate are identical: 14% strike rate and a loss of 23 cents on the dollar. Interestingly, if you look at runners drawn 8 and up, the win percentage goes down of course but the ROI stays the same yet again.

Conclusion: Their appears to be no advantage of one post over another in sprints at GG.

 
SPECIFIC BETTING ANGLES

First off let me say that I am a big believer in studying the form for each race and trying to see how the field matches up as a group of individuals. I am fascinated by trainer stats, but they are not meant as a substitution for understanding pace dynamics, form cycle, and an understanding of speed figures and how they were earned. Your mileage may vary with these, but they are well worth looking out for.

We spoke above about Jonathan Wong. Matt Vagvolgyi did find an interesting angle for his runners that has proven to yield a profit. Back his runners first-time off the claim while changing surface. In the past year plus it’s just a 17-race sample but the numbers are impressive: 9 have won and the ROI is positive, $1.36 returned on the dollar. Looking at Wong with this angle yields a similar win percentage, a much better place percentage, and an ROI that is way better than the takeout (just a $.01 loss). There is signal here.

Another small sample-size angle worth tracking going forward concerns a few of the Stats Race Lens proprietary metrics, but can be approximated looking at any past-performance product. In turf sprints, horses who project to press the leader from just off the pace, who also possess the best late pace figure (fastest closing sectional time) win 33 percent of the time and return $1.07 for each dollar bet.

Juan Hernandez-ridden runners in turf sprints who possess speed appear to be underappreciated in our sample. In a 17-race sample, he wins at 29 percent with an off-the-charts ROI. Something to keep an eye on as Hernandez seems a shrewd judge of pace.

Two cases in point: when he rides a projected leader in an all-weather sprint, he wins an insane 49 percent of the time (in a 71-race sample!) and returns a positive ROI ($1.28). When he rides in a turf route and projects to be in the mix (no worse than third) after six furlongs, with a horse with the fastest closing sectionals, he wins at 38 percent, with another 31 percent second, and a plus ROI.

Jockey Ricardo Gonzalez may have a special affinity for getting first-time starters to the winner’s circle. In a 21-race sample, he’s won five times with a positive ROI – it’s particularly notable that three of the winners (in only four starters) came for Wong. That’s a jockey-trainer combo to look out with firsters.

We’ll leave things off with a specific angle about horses shipping in to Golden Gate from the other California tracks. Many would think that Santa Anita shippers have a class advantage, and that for Los Alamitos shippers it would be more of a lateral move. The numbers tell a different story, at least when it comes to races at a mile or over on the all-weather. Santa Anita shippers are just 11 percent in a 36-start sample, with a loss of 63 cents on the dollar. The Los Al shippers have won 7 from 28 starts and returned a plus ROI of $1.85. The crowd appears to be overrating horses from Santa Anita and underrating those from Los Alamitos.

Course Guide: Golden Gate Fields
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