by Tim Holland
Patrons at Keeneland's 2006 Fall Meet may notice many changes at the historic track, but the most outstanding is the installation of the new racing surface, "Polytrack," and the reconfiguration of the track making the turns more symmetrical and wider and the stretch longer. Believe it or not, the stretch run at Keeneland is now longer than that of Churchill Downs.
By making these changes one can expect Keeneland to not only become one of the safest and modern racetracks in the world, but also a more fair racing surface. Indeed, handicappers who, in the past, may have noticed that front-runners held an advantage may realize that this track should be more of a level playing field, less conducive to any particular running style.
Keeneland is the third track in North America to make the transition to Polytrack. Turfway Park was the first and, similar to Keeneland, the track had previously held the reputation of being somewhat speed favoring. When watching races over the new surface at Turfway it did not take players long to note that the speed bias had been significantly reduced and horses that stalked the early leaders before making a winning move were the most successful.
Woodbine in Canada was the second venue to install this surface. Partly due to its long stretch this track was not necessarily known as a speed favoring track and now, with the change to Polytrack, horses are able to win employing any style and often coming from far behind.
Similar to Turfway, horseplayers at Keeneland may do well to look closely at horses that do own some early speed but have also shown good late acceleration. However, they should not completely forget their traditional handicapping rules as, similar to turf racing, lone speed can still be dangerous on the Polytrack and will often pay handsome dividends.Post Positions
As well as paying close attention to the running styles of the winners on the first few days of the meet, players should also keep track of the successful post positions and the parts of the track that the winners traveled over. Indeed, at Turfway, especially during their first meet, certain parts of the track were slightly more favorable than others. For example the inside rail on the backstretch seemed to be tiring, but down the stretch the rail position was an advantage. Studious handicappers can expect to notice some subtle biases over Keeneland's Polytrack and profit from them.
Much has been said about turf pedigrees being important for success over the Polytrack. However, when the surface was first used in England it was found that horses bred simply for the turf did not necessarily hold an advantage and this has also been the case at Turfway. Indeed the majority of the horses finding success are those that own a certain mixture of "turf acceleration" combined with "dirt speed" in their pedigrees. This attribute can be found in the offspring of many adaptable sires and extra attention should be paid to any runners that are descended from the Mr.Prospector and Storm Cat lines.
Some sires to watch for on the Keeneland Polytrack:
It has been seen that experience for runners, either through racing or training, over the Polytrack is extremely important. Players should pay attention to horses that own good workouts at Keeneland or that have been racing at Turfway. The powerful barn of Patrick Biancone, who is stabled at Turfway, is a prime example of one that can be expected to have a strong meet. Conversely, and just as important, is that players should be wary of shippers from non-Polytrack venues that may be vulnerable starting at short odds.
Riding experience is also a plus over the Polytrack and it may pay to follow jockeys that have found success at Turfway. The best known rider from Turfway is Julien Leparoux who is certain to have a good meet at Keeneland but may not offer much wagering value. Others that may prove profitable to follow include Miguel Mena, John McKee, Victor Lebron, Willie Martinez and Randall Toups.
Brisnet.com provides handicapping information and past performances for Keeneland up to 72 hours out. In October Brisnet.com will debut the addition of Polytrack information (in the form of tabulated race records) in the past performances of runners. This is a significant piece of information for those players looking to gain an edge on the racing meets with synthetic surfaces.
-- Tim Holland is a four-time qualifier to Las Vegas. He represented the 2001 and 2002 Keeneland teams which took down the $20,000 first place team prize in the National Handicapping Championship.
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