12/03/2008 5:17PM

Inner, Inner Chicken Dinner

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Aqueductdiagram Forget the solstice and the myth that we've got 18 more days of autumn. Winter began today for New York horseplayers, as it always does when the unloved, maligned but thoroughly playable Aqueduct Inner Dirt Track opened for business. (The IDT first opened in the winter of 1976, replacing what was then Aqueduct's "outer" grass course. The formerly "inner" seven-furlong turf course is now the only one.)

Have you heard that early speed does well on the IDT? Of course you have, ad nauseam, and while there's some statistical truth to it, I don't think that's a particularly useful impression or basis for winter handicapping, since it's an overrrated and overbet approach. It appears that way for reasons that have nothing to do with the track itself: a generally lower level of competition that includes a higher percentage of the most hopeless of the hopeless, who are outrun early and late; uncompetitive races with two dominant entrants who run 1-2 around the track; and a switch from one-turn 7f and 8f races on the main track that are more demanding on front-runners to more speed-favoring 8f, 8.32f, and 8.5f routes around two turns.

It does seem as if there are days when speed is absolutely golden, but I find 4 of 5 of these days in the course of a winter meet where other handicappers find 20 or 30. Of course, what fun (or profit) would the game hold if we all agreed?

Today's first four winners led at every call. They also paid $6.30, $4.50, $5.30 and $4.50. Superdupergoldrail bias, or just a formful day at the races? The only pricey winner on the card, Megadeed ($20.00) in the 7th, dueled, opened 2 1/2 lengths with a furlong to go, and lasted by a nose over a 7-1 shot who was 9th at the quarter pole and lost a brutal headbob. In the finale, 8-5 fave Knot News had a five-length lead with a furlong to go and still got caught at the wire. I'm not marking down 12/3/08 as an aberrant, particularly speed-favoring day.

I couldn't find much to bet on, had a total handle of $532 and caught half of the $1084 late pick-4 for a $542 return and a whopping $10 pre-tax profit. What an easy game, if you don't mind the $2-per-hour wages.