Who doesn’t love Saratoga? For those who have been to that historic track in upstate New York (a three-hour drive south of Montreal) and feel imbued with the ambience of the country setting, winning a race could almost feel like a bonus. For some reason that track seems to fit comfortably into my wheelhouse. Selecting winners doesn’t feel as intimidating as it does at some other tracks.

Besides that esoteric quality, what are more substantive things that can give you a betting edge? And what can be said about Del Mar that kicks off in southern California on Friday?

Consider this: Some trainers have been champing at the bit waiting for these meets to begin because they have a hot horse or horses in the barn that are raring to put out a winning performance. That’s especially true for first-time starters — which means there’s a chance to capitalize on unknown talent that could go off at a big price.

Take race 3 in Saturday’s Saratoga card. First-timer Why Waste Words, a three-year-old gray filly by Bernardini, finished second at 45-1 as the longest shot on the board. There were only two debut horses in the 11-horse field and most speculative money was bet, of course, on the horse being ridden by leading New York jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr. His horse finished eighth.

Being a gray likely resulted in some wagering on Why Waste Words and the fact Bond, James Bond, is her trainer might have prompted vacationing visitors to shell out a few bucks as well. But it was the fact Bond entered her as soon as the meet began that told the tale. A $1 exactor paid $826 and a $1 triactor was worth more than $11,300.

Similarly, be on the lookout for first-time starters that offer good value on Del Mar’s opening weekend.

Pay attention to this as well: The summer meet there is the playground of celebrity horse-owners from Hollywood who would like nothing better than to impress their friends with a trip to the winner’s circle. And how would they help make that happen? By dropping their horse in class. So watch out for horses being dropped in class more than they should be. That kind of horse has “winner” written all over it.

Here’s your $3.20 pick-5 ticket for ASD tonight

A share in tonight’s jackpot pick-5 pool at Assiniboia Downs which features the Derby Trial Stakes seems winnable for a mere $3.20. Am I right? Here’s my suggested 20-cent wheel starting in race 3: 5/1,3/3,7/1,4,5,7/8. It might be worth taking a flier on #1,2,3 or 4 beating the likely big favourite, #8 Jeff Fa Fa, in the final race. That would increase your ticket cost to $16.

Tonight’s Derby Trial Stakes is likely to see a battle between Oaklawn Park claimer, Chicago’s Gray, who has blistering early speed, and Lone Star Park claimer Mano Dura who will try to catch him. Mano Dura was claimed in Texas by top ASD horse owner Henry S. Witt, Jr. for leading ASD trainer Jerry Gourneau likely to win the elusive Manitoba Derby for the first time, keeping Oaklawn specialist Murray Duncan from winning his second Manitoba Derby with Chicago’s Gray. Expect fireworks! The 75th Manitoba Derby goes three weeks from tonight.

Here are the latest stats on ASD’s highly-touted handicappers, Kirt and Stretch who co-host the online ASD Live show 45 minutes before the races begin at 7:30 p.m. CT and then suggest bets before each race. In last week’s three race cards from Monday to Wednesday–21 races in all–track announcer Kirt picked nine winners and pro golfer Stretch had 10. Stretch’s wagers produced a profit of $313.65 while Kirt’s bets lost $82.55. Stretch’s biggest successful play was Tuesday’s pick-4 that paid $549.05 for his $27 ticket. Kirt’s best was a $15 double play on the same day that earned him $214.50.