Favorites and Saratoga: Is it Really the Graveyard of Champions?

Why is Saratoga the Graveyard of Champions? 

Saratoga has been called “the graveyard of Champions” probably for as long as anyone can remember.  After all, over 11 years ago, in 1919, Man O’ War suffered his only defeat to a horse named Upset.


About 50 years ago, H Allen Jerkins, the giant killer, beat the great Secretariat with two different horses in Saratoga.


In the last decade, Keen Ice ran down Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in the stretch of the Travers.  Additionally, I’m certain that others can name plenty of other times the prohibitive favorite and champion horse lost to an underdog.

Why do Favorites lose in Saratoga?

These “upsets” may have more to do with the timing of the meet than with the surface or location of the track.  After all, people forget that the Triple Crown races favor precocious horses- 3 year olds who have win early in their careers, so after a grueling spring, these horses come off a rest to run in Saratoga. Meanwhile other three year olds only run in one, two, or nine of the Triple Crown races, and are run in a more even racing schedule to be in peak condition for the Saratoga meet.

Put these factors in with a lot of non-horseplayers putting their money on the horses they know from the Triple Crown or loading up on Pletcher, Chad Brown  or Irad Ortiz, and the favorites go off at lower than their morning line.

All of this adds up to having champions lose in races where they are the prohibitive favorite. But not so far this year!

Because this season at Saratoga favorites are winning over 40% of the time.

But only 13% of favorites win in Stakes races.  But be careful because some of those stakes are 2 year old races.

so we still have to answer the question...

Is Saratoga still the Graveyard of Champions?

Well, yes and no. Whitebeam ran down In Italian in the Diana, and Yo Yo Candy beat 1 to 5 Gold Sweep in the Sanford, Becky's Joker won the Schuylerville at 20-1.

YoYo Candy winning the Sanford

But hard to say Whitebeam was not peaking at the right time, and with 2 year olds  like YoYo Candy and Becky's Joker beating a favorite is not as daunting a task since they are the group with the greatest potential for improvement between races.

While 3 year old and up on the dirt stakes were won by favorites: Forte won the Jim Dandy; Echo Zulu won the Honorable Miss;  Elite Power won the Vanderbilt at less than even money.

Echo Zulu, horse racing, Saratoga, NYRA
Echo Zulu wins the Honorable Miss Stakes

However, New York Thunder did manage to win the Amsterdam at 6-1.

Saratoga Race Course, Saratoga, horse racing
New York Thunder winner of the Amsterdam

On Sunday, the only horse with two wins over rate Spa turf course, Channel Maker, won the Bowling Green Stakes at 15-1 - not certain what happened on Charlie Appleby's Rebel's Romance. I ended up playing Verstabben who just missed.

So, with a small collection of stakes races so far this year, the best place for the longer prices is in the 2 year old division and on the turf course. Saratoga needs some  upsets to win on the dirt in the older male and female division to keep its moniker.

What does this mean for the bettor?

Single in the 3 year old and up dirt races and spread in the 2 year old races and in the turf races for your horizontal wagers.