The Grade I Whitney Stakes will be run Saturday at 1 1/8 miles over the dirt and, as of publication, has a field of five entrants. The average field of a stakes race at Saratoga since the 2013 meet has been between seven and eight entrants, and my inclination was to treat the race a little differently on account of the small field.
If all entrants had equal ability and no advantages in the average Saratoga stakes race since the 2013 meet, they would have an average of 13.74% chance to win. In the same circumstances, an even field of five would have a 20% chance each. I theorized that the increase of 6.26% chance to win per entrant would be dispersed mostly among the medium and long shots, and that they would see a greater win percentage than they would without the depleted field, while the favorites would see limited improvement.
To test this, results for all stakes races run at Saratoga (533 since 2013) were compared to the results for stakes races run at Saratoga that only fielded five entrants (69 since 2013). In the data samples, the average-sized field favorite won 33.5% and the five-entrant field favorite won 35% if its races, suggesting that there was minimal advantage to the favorite in the smaller field. However, the public perceives a substantial advantage to the favorite in these smaller fields. In such races, the favorite has left the gate at 1-1 odds on average, whereas the favorite in the average-sized field went off with average odds of about 1.6-1.
Because the favorite in the smaller field wins at the same rate, but pays less than its average field counterpart, a win bet on the favorite in the Whitney can be disadvantageous. The return on investment when betting the favorite in the five-entrant sample was only 64.9%, compared to 84% when betting the favorite in the average-sized field sample.
However, the two samples diverge from there. The No. 2-4 entrants, based on their morning line price in the sample of races with five entrants, narrowly outperformed their counterparts in the average-sized field. The No. 5-ranked horse based on the morning line in the five-entrant sample, the longest shot on the board, won almost 6% more of its races than its No. 5 counterpart in the average-sized field sample.
The data suggests that when betting to win in the Whitney, bet against the public instead of the entrants, and hope Mr. Buff (12-1) will prevail in one of the 14.49% of races where the longest shot on the board pulls off the upset.
Betting and predicting are different, though. And though I may not have a ticket with his name on it, Tom’s d’Etat (6-5) should be the horse to beat. He has already gotten the best of everyone in the field except last year’s Travers winner, Code of Honor (5-2), at some point in his career, and enters the gate with a four-race win streak and five of his last six.
- FIRST RACE: 7-Winfromwithin, 4-Windcracker, 3-Reinvestment Risk, 6-Venerable.
- SECOND RACE: 1-Fog Of War, 2-Spirit Animal, 3-Dream Friend, 5-Hidden Scroll.
- THIRD RACE: 9-Regal Speaker, 6-Golconda, 2-False Alarm, 4-No Salt.
- FOURTH RACE: 3-Dreams Of Tomorrow, 5-Ima Pharoah, 9-Obsessed, 8-Matty’s Marauder.
- FIFTH RACE: 3-Midnight Bisou, 6-Point Of Honor, 1-Abounding Joy, 4-Vexatious.
- SIXTH RACE: 7-Everfast, 6-Stage Left, 2-Mister Winston, 8-Vintage Hollywood.
- SEVENTH RACE: 7-King Of Miami, 10-Habitus, 8-Modern Science, 2-Explain.
- EIGHTH RACE: 8-Reigning Spirit, 3-Bail Out, 7-Amano, 5-Mystery Bank.
- NINTH RACE: 5-Tom’s d’Etat, 3-Code Of Honor, 1-By My Standards, 2-Improbable.
- TENTH RACE: 7-Shoplifted, 11-Tap It To Win, 8-Three Technique, 3-Sonneman.
- ELEVENTH RACE: 5-Channel Maker, 1-Marzo, 4-Dot Matrix, 7-Pillar Mountain.
- TWELFTH RACE: 3-Sweet Bye And Bye, 6-Mother Mother, 7-Dalika, 5-Jakarta.
Unholy Alliance (fourth).
Record for meet: 28-for-122.