Aug 23 2015

Know Your Trainers – Pletcher vs. Mott

Includes data through July 23, 2015 (with a recent update on a Bill Mott turnaround category).

A frequent question asked by new fans trying to learn more about horse racing is, “Where do I begin?” My immediate response is generally, “Get to know your trainers.” While learning about topics like distance, class, and pace are important … in my opinion, none are as important as learning about the tendencies, strengths, and weaknesses of trainers. With that thought in mind, last year we started a new series of articles called “Know Your Trainers.”

In this series we will dig into the statistics of some head trainers and try to make sense of the numbers we find. We thought it might be fun to present the numbers in a “competitive” manner by pairing trainers. With that said, we are not trying to judge the trainers or claim that one is better than another. Our intention is to pair trainers who have statistics in comparable categories and present some plausible reasons why they might differ.

Here is an update on two of the big names in the business, Todd Pletcher and Bill Mott. Our focus will be on two main areas; Graded Stakes and First Time Starters (FTS). The statistics presented were gathered with Daily Racing Form’s online software Formulator. We limited the data to the past two years, but you can go back five years if you want a larger sample of data.

Before we start, here is an explanation of each column in the charts below:

  • STR = Number of starts
  • 1st = Number of wins.
  • 2nd = Number of place finishes.
  • 3rd = Number of show finishes.
  • WIN% = Overall percentage of wins based on number of starts.
  • ITM% = Percentage of times the horse finished In-The-Money (1st, 2nd, or 3rd).
  • ROI = Return on Investment, based on a $2 flat Win bet for every starter. Over $2 is profitable. For example, if there were 100 starters, and the ROI was $3 … The total wagered would equal $200 ($2 x 100). The return would be $300 ($3 x 100). If the ROI were $0.50, then the return would be $50 (50-cents x 100) … resulting in a loss of $150.

For Graded Stakes we’ll limit the races to Routes only, meaning 1 mile or greater. We’re doing this because Bill Mott participates in very few Graded Stakes Sprint races, leaving little to contrast. Below is a chart showing the Graded Stakes results in Dirt Route races for each trainer, separated by Grade 1, 2, 3.

Mott Pletcher Grd Stk Dirt Route3

For Grade-1 races, both trainers have nearly identical results in Win% and ITM%, with Mott having a slightly higher ROI than Pletcher.  While their ROI is still positive, it is much less than it had been in last year’s study ($3.34 and $3.74).

For Grade-2 races, Pletcher has considerably better results than Mott in all categories.  But in Grade-3 races, while their Win% and ITM% are similar, Mott has a much better ROI with much less starters.

Now let’s look at their Graded Stakes results in Turf Route races.

Mott Pletcher Grd Stk Turf Route2

Wow … what a change when we switch surfaces, especially in Grade-1 races, where combined these two top trainers are 4 for 65 in terms of wins.

Mott’s numbers are much better in Grade-2 races, winning 23% and having an ROI over $2.  But, in Grade-3, he dips back down to a 7% win percentage and ROI under $1.

Looking at Pletcher G1-G2 races combined, you see that he has only 5 wins out of 55 starts. Does this mean Todd Pletcher doesn’t know how to train horses to run on the turf?

If you consider his results in Grade-3 turf races, 19% win, 51% ITM, and $2.36 … I think he knows what he is doing just fine, thank you. The more plausible explanation is that the G1/G2 stock in his stable is predominantly dirt-intended horses. The good news for Pletcher fans is that he obviously has capable G3 turf horses. So fire away in G3, but be cautious when considering one of his turf horses in G1/G2 races, especially if it’s a short price.

Next we’ll review First Time Starters in two broad categories, dirt sprints and turf routes. Utilizing another feature in Formulator we’ll separate the results even further by age, 2-year old only and 3-year old and upward. Below are their First Time Starters in Dirt Sprints races.

Mott Pletcher FTS Dirt Sprint2

The 2-year old only results show the greatest contrast between Bill Mott and Todd Pletcher. Mott wins 4%, 26% hit the board, and he has an ROI of only $0.67. Pletcher on the other hand wins 33% of the time, 68% in-the-money, and has an ROI of $1.90. This is as stark a contrast as you will find in any category between these top trainers. Obviously there is a fundamental difference in their approach with 2-year old horses and/or the type of horses they train are dramatically different at this age. Maybe Todd Pletcher trains more precocious 2-year old horses or maybe his training regimen is entirely different. Whatever the reason, a horseplayer should be aware of these differences.

The 3-year old and upward results paint an entirely different story. Mott has a Win% and ITM% that match Pletcher, and his ROI of $3.26 is far better than Pletcher’s of $1.28. This all suggests that Bill Mott takes a different approach with his 3-year old firsters, yet the public has not caught on to the disparity between his 2-year old and 3-up firsters.  With 13 of 30 of his 3up firsters finishing in the exacta and an ROI of $3.26, it sure looks like an opportunity for some value plays.

Pletcher’s winning percentage of 21% would be good for any other trainer, but his ROI of only $1.28 suggests that the betting public is still betting on his older horses with the expectation of him winning at the same rate as he does with his 2-year old horses. A faulty assumption if you look at the numbers.

Finally, let’s review the statistics for our trainer’s First Time Starters in Turf Route races. Again we will separate the results by age.

Mott Pletcher FTS Turf Route2

For the 2-year old races, similar patterns emerge for Bill Mott, having only 1 winner from 34 starters. His ROI of $2.72 is the result of the lone winner going off at huge odds.

2015 Meet Update (July 24-August 21) :

As was pointed out in some comments on the article by Jim Mazur (Attacking The Spa With Negative Stats) Bill Mott has made a remarkable turnaround in this category during the opening weeks (7/24 – 8/21) of Saratoga this year.  In seven starts with 2-year old Turf Firsters, Mott has two winners and two that finished second, with an ROI of $9.91.  Also, of interest here, the four horses who finished first and second had four different owners.  It will be very interesting to see if this trend continues.  Is this a short term anomaly or has Bill Mott made a fundamental change in his approach with his 2-year old turf horses?

Todd Pletcher has a win percentage of 26%, which has risen from 19% in last year’s study.  Also, his ROI has risen from $2.00 to $2.39 in this year’s study.  This all suggests that Pletcher has more turf-meant 2-year olds in his barn now, and is starting to produced results similar to his dirt races.  The ROI of $2.39 means the betting public might not have caught on to this fact … yet.

The debut turf routers for 3-year old and upward is quite low (only 1 of 49 winners) for both trainers combined. Overall, their WIN% and ITM% is far less than what the average fan might expect from these top trainers. It seems pretty clear from these numbers – an older horse making his/her debut in a turf route race is probably not one of the better horses in their stable. Yet the betting public is more times than not still backing them. This should and does create opportunities for value on other horses in these races – horses trained by someone not named Bill Mott or Todd Pletcher.

Kentucky Downs 2015
Modeled after European style turf courses, come visit the only one of its kind in North America. The author had a truly enjoyable visit to this unique race course the past two years. Click here to read more about last year’s adventure.


Neal Headshot2
By Neal Benoit

4 comments on “Know Your Trainers – Pletcher vs. Mott

  1. Neal, Glad you are posting again! Thanks for the updated information. I think a post showing Aqueduct V. Belmont V. Saratoga V. All other meets would be a fascinating comparison. Especially looking at a Chad Brown or Todd Pletcher versus a Shug McGaughey. I suspect the year round numbers may be more consistent for Shug than Pletcher or Brown as they seem to focus on firing at the Spa.

    • Thank you. I have a long way to go, but remain hopeful that I can get this turned around. Thanks for the continued good thoughts and support.

      Regarding your request, sounds like a fun thing to look into. I will put it on my To-Do List.

  2. is there a place to go for r. o. i. for the top 100 trainers in usa so i know exactly which trainers are the best??? reply soon—thank you—reply to my email address below

    robert johnson on

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