Speed Trap?

by Ed Meyer

posted on January 16, 2009 in General Discussion, Handicapping | No Comments >>

The bottom line is that the only time to look for early speed this season on the inner track is when the surface is very wet and sealed. The first few days of racing at the newly minted Gulfstream meet have been surprising as well. Early speed has not done any better at the Miami-area oval than at Aqueduct.

Eight days of racing at Gulfstream has produced an average track bias rating of 131. The range has been from a low of 100, up to 167. Dirt surfaces seldom are more fair than that. By way of comparison, the synthetic Pro-Ride surface at Santa Anita has produced an average track bias rating of 118 since its Dec. 26th opening. There has been slightly more variability there. The range has been from 66 to a high of 187.

The take home message is this. These three venues were once considered havens for early speed on the main track. That is no longer the case for any of them, and only one has converted away from traditional dirt. Where bettors could once draw a line through most contenders without early speed, doing so now has been resulting in parimutuel suicide.

That makes identifying and betting winners all the harder. Although Aqueduct favorites are winning at a normal rate, around 35 percent, longshots have been very successful. More than 15 percent of inner track races have been won by animals going to post at double-digit odds. No wonder there have been multiple days when the Pick Six was not hit, resulting in frequent carryover pools.

GATTO NERO debuted at Aqueduct on Dec 12th. The filly finished second at 11-1, despite a tough trip. Trainer Roy Sedlacek claimed her that day for $25,000. When she returned in race two on Dec. 31st, Sedlacek ambitiously boosted the filly to the $50,000 level. Gatto Nero was a strong second behind the favorite. Sedlacek does better second or third off the claim.

GREENSPIRIT last appeared in race nine on Jan. 2nd. This was a starter allowance event, which allowed multiple winners to compete, if they had never won an open allowance, or had started for a claiming tag of $50,000 or less.

The Steve Asmussen-trained Greenspirit had made only three previous starts, one at the route distance of the Jan. 2nd race. That had come December 5th, when the gelding broke his maiden decisively. He finished second last time after stalking a strong pace.

HAITIAN SENSATION and TOULOUSE LAUTREC engaged in a suicide speed duel in race six on Jan. 3rd. On a track which was not kind to early speed in routes, the pair slugged it out head-to-head down the backstretch, the final turn, and throughout the stretch run.

Unfortunately, a deep closer who was eight lengths back with a furlong remaining, was able to catch the staggering duo in the final strides.

Jan. 7th was mentioned previously as a day when the inner track was speed biased. CASINO KAY was among the bias victims that afternoon. The Mike Maker-trained filly broke tardily, then had her problems compounded when she stopped in mid-race traffic. She regrouped and finished well for the place. The Maker barn was cold at the time, and has shown recent signs of hitting a winning stride.

DEVIL HOUSE and favored WEATHERED got no help from the track in the Jan. 9th feature race. The pair went one-two around the track for six furlongs in the mile race, only to be run over by the longest shot on the board, turning for home. The second quarter of this race was clocked in a blistering 22.69 seconds, way too fast for the conditions.

FIRST COMMANDMENT was coming off a 10-month layoff in race seven on Jan. 10th. The colt had been the dominant winner of two route starts over the inner track one year earlier. The son of Deputy Commander overcame an anti-speed track, with a rating of 77, to win handily this time as well, pulling away to a three-length score as the favorite. Look for him in New York-bred stakes.

I may be biased, since SHERINE was my top choice in race eight on Jan. 11th. The Tony Dutrow-trained filly broke last in the field, then rushed to the lead. On a track rated a closer-biased 55, she set a brisk pace in her first start in eight months. Look for her to improve sharply, and possibly stretch out in distance.