Aug 11 2018

Saratoga Turf Primer

Saratoga is a Race Track that has two turf courses located inside of the Main Dirt track. The outer turf course is officially known as the Mellon Turf Course, in honor of the Mellon family (whose members were prominent owners and breeders in the Thoroughbred industry). The inner turf course is located directly inside of the Mellon Turf Course. As far as turf courses go, it is pretty straight-forward with no chutes or extensions like turf courses at some other race tracks.

The following diagram highlights the Mellon Turf course (in light green) and includes the location of the starting gate (in a box) for each distance from 5f to 9.5f.

Saratoga Outer Turf Course

The circumference of the outer turf course is 1 mile (8f). And, just like with the Main Dirt track, there are some distances that are impossible to run on the outer turf course because they would have to place the starting gate directly on the first turn. These distances range between 6f and 7.5f, which are common distances at many other racetracks.

The following diagram highlights the Inner Turf Course (in dark green) at Saratoga and includes the location of the starting gates for each distance from 8f to 12f.

Saratoga Inner Turf Course

The circumference of the inner turf course is 7 furlongs. The turns on this course are sharper than the outer turf course and a little tougher to negotiate for the jockey and horse. For this reason, the Daily Racing Form displays a different symbol for races run on Outer vs. Inner turf courses. Below is an excerpt from the Past Performances (PPs) of a horse that had run on both the inner and outer tracks at Saratoga in 2012.

Inner and Outer Turf PPs example

The diagram to the left shows the different symbols used by DRF to differentiate between races run on Outer vs. Inner turf courses. Also, when a race track has only ONE turf course, the symbol for the Outer Turf course (T inside of a Circle) is always shown.

Regardless of whether a race is run on the outer or inner turf courses, it’s good information to know when a horse was compromised in a prior race due to a poor position on the turn. Sometimes this is the result of the horse being stuck in an outside post position in the starting gate, especially when the gate is located close to a turn. It leaves very little time for the jockey to move their horse over before he hits that first turn of a race.


In addition to starting gate location, another major factor in Saratoga turf races is the importance of tactical speed, especially on the inner turf course. The tightness of the turns and firmness of the course aid horses with speed. A great example of this is Voodoo Song, who parlayed his speed into four consecutive wins in 2017 at Saratoga. Below is the video replay of his final win in the G3 Saranac Stakes. Notice how Voodoo Song (#5) goes right to the early lead, allowing him to dictate the pace and cut the corners with no interference from other horses. As you watch this race, see how Yoshida (#2) is forced to circle horses wide at the top of the stretch and loses valuable ground, ultimately costing him the race – despite closing rapidly at the finish.

Supporting the notion that Voodoo Song benefited from the dynamics of the Saratoga turf courses is the fact that he won only 1 start in his next five races at other tracks. It will be interesting to see how he does in 2018 at the Spa!

Footnote to this article.  Voodoo Song and Yoshida are meeting each other for a rematch in the Grade One Fourstardave Handicap (on the Inner Turf course) at Saratoga on August 11, 2018.  Good luck to both.

Update, August 12: Voodoo Song did it again, going gate to wire, and paying $15.40 to win!


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By Neal Benoit

3 comments on “Saratoga Turf Primer

  1. Outside post position for Yoshida today should prove to be an interesting race to the first turn. I’m against Voodoo Song… (and for Yoshida). Others thoughts on today’s Fourstardave?

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