Track bias could be an overrated handicapping tool
Some handicappers think too many horseplayers use track bias - meaning conditions that promote certain styles like early speed or location on the track, like outside lanes - as an excuse for disappointing results.
Others think horseplayers are too quick to make an assumption of a track bias, like calling out a speed bias when winners of an early race or two go wire-to-wire even though they may have been heavily favored and found races where they could control the pace.
With cold weather and intermittent rain at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Oaks Day, May 5, and Kentucky Derby Day, May 6, a strong double track bias - inside lanes and early speed - may have affected the outcome of some of the most important races of the year. It affected not only horseplayers who put over $209 million through the pari-mutuel windows on Kentucky Derby Day alone, but also owners and breeders where the value of their horses can rise exponentially with victories in any of the many Graded Stakes races offered over the two days.
Always Dreaming was likely the best horse in the Kentucky Derby and would likely have won the race over a fair surface, but he also benefited from his inside post when sent along the rail to duel on the early pace. He came off the faster rail for just a brief time entering the backstretch to go up and around fellow pacesetter State of Honor (who finished 19th), then immediately dropped back to the rail and maintained a safe margin through the stretch to win handily. The remaining order of finish when it comes to the Exacta, Trifecta, and Superfecta is where the track bias may have played a huge role.
Runner-up Lookin At Lee drew what is usually the kiss-of-death rail post, but on this day he dropped far back early as usual and his jockey Corey Lanerie was able to stay right along the faster rail throughout to rally without getting stopped once and ended up a clear second at 33/1.
Third place finisher Battle of Midway stalked the pace throughout while three or four wide, never had a chance to get down along the faster going, and ran very well at 40/1 considering he bucked the bias.
Classic Empire was wiped out at the start from post 14 when Irish War Cry came in sharply after the start. He lost early position as a result, then was forced to race wide around the far turn trying to make up the lost ground and finished a commendable fourth vs. the double track bias at 6/1. He likely would have finished higher with a clean trip.
The moral of the story? It is important for handicappers to do the work, but to have an open mind and pay attention to results of how the tracks are playing and be prepared to take advantage of bias situations before the rest of the public can adjust. Track bias can provide situations that present overlays and profits if accurately identified before others see the same pattern.
Also keep track of those horses that took the worst of any track bias when they return to the races next time. If properly spotted their form can look worse than it really is and once again the chance is there for the horseplayer to take advantage at inflated prices.
These days the main track under normal conditions is a very deep and sandy surface that produces slow times. It takes a very fit horse to compete over the Arcadia oval's dirt surface and hinders those horses who are stabled off track at places like Los Alamitos, where it is tougher to get a horse fit enough over their glib main track to deal with the deeper going.
Rain hit Saturday morning, and the main track was sealed (meaning steamrolled to pack the surface so the water didn't get into the track and produce very deep muddy going). The result was an entirely different main track that yielded extremely fast times and big prices, with winners paying such prices as $17.20, $15.40, $22.40, $21.20, $37.00, $42.20, $92.00, and $16.40. No less than four of the longshot winners were first-time starters, who found fitness less of an issue over the hard fast track.
My advice is to take the results at Santa Anita from May 6 with a grain of salt, and throw out poor efforts from more fancied runners that day who may rebound back to form when they return to a "normal" Santa Anita surface. If you like a horse that ran poorly that day, it may be prudent to give them an excuse for next time. The price should rise, too.
By Jon Lindo - GamingToday.com
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