09/25/2003 11:00PM

Bias turns inside out

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - It is the antithesis of what long has been derisively known as the Turfway conveyor belt. A reverse bias that has seen a majority of winners racing well removed from the inner rail has been in place for most of the fall meet at Turfway Park. Track president Bob Elliston insists he and his staff have been keenly aware of its existence and are attempting to neutralize its effects.

Through Thursday, or 17 of 22 programs at the Florence, Ky., track, statistics show that inside post positions have fared inordinately poorly - especially in relation to Turfway's longstanding reputation as a track that overwhelmingly favors speed on the rail. There probably is no better illustration of how the Turfway surface has tended to favor outside running positions than these numbers: horses starting from post 1 had won just 3 of 100 sprints and 6 of 70 routes, while post 2 also has produced similar low numbers by winning 3 of 100 sprints and 8 of 70 routes.

A new racing surface that cost about $100,000 - one with a different composition than what traditionally had been in use - was laid down in late July, but Elliston insists a lack of sufficient rain in recent weeks most likely has been the cause of what horseplayers commonly call a dead rail.

Elliston said that as the meet has progressed he has consulted at length with track superintendent Danny Chapman. "There's no doubt that our surface needs natural moisture to avoid, as much as we can, any track bias," said Elliston. "Until we had a really hard rain last Sunday night, we'd basically gone 2 1/2 weeks without much rain at all, and it probably did create some bias down there [near the rail]."

It has become common practice for Turfway jockeys to keep their mounts several paths off the rail, especially in the vicinity of the quarter pole. Racing charts for most days show that the majority of winners have raced in outside paths. Meanwhile, there has been no discernible bias favoring speed or closers.

"We've watched some of the replays real close, and you can see the explosions [of dirt] from the horses' feet is much larger [when racing near the rail] than the ones that are four or five [paths] out," said jockey Jon Court, a 24-year veteran. "We were all commenting on that, saying, 'Look at how much you can notice.' "

Court said he believes the bias has been more pronounced in earlier races on any given card. "I'd like to see it more uniform. I know a lot of riders would," he said.

Elliston said the new surface, which was imported from Ohio and is composed of a slightly finer sand than what formerly was used, has undergone something of a trial-and-error period this fall and that the lack of rain has not helped.

"Having spent as much time on this as we have, I really believe there's not a suitable substitute for a good, soaking rainfall," he said. "Since Sunday, I think the bias has been much less pronounced," a point supported to a minor degree by two Wednesday wins from post 2 and a Thursday win from post 1 by Fan the Flame, who led all the way on the rail.

"From what I saw, I didn't think you saw as much a fear of the rail from jockeys [Wednesday and Thursday]. I honestly think the track is getting nearer the balance we've been seeking. It's unfortunate that it went on as long as it did, but I think fans should know we've been extremely cognizant of what's going on and that we've worked very hard trying to get it right."

Cup prospects coming to Keeneland

After the Turfway meet ends Thursday, action on the Kentucky circuit shifts to Keeneland in Lexington, where three critical days filled with Breeders' Cup preps will open the meet.

Nominations were released Thursday for the six graded stakes that dominate the opening three-day weekend (Oct. 3-5), and to no one's surprise, those rosters are dotted with top prospects for the Oct. 25 Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita. Here is a brief rundown of those races.

Friday: Several major candidates for the BC Sprint, including Beau's Town and Great Notion, are expected for the $250,000 Phoenix Breeders' Cup, while trainer Todd Pletcher has four of the 18 2-year-old fillies named to the $400,000 Darley Alcibiades.

Saturday: The $400,000 Lane's End Breeders' Futurity is expected to get a big field of 2-year-olds, including Limehouse, Mr. Jester, Perfect Moon, Tiger Hunt, and Victory Light, while the $600,000 Shadwell Turf Mile is shaping up as an excellent prep for the BC Mile, with nominees including Della Francesca, Honor in War, Perfect Soul, Touch of the Blues, and Trademark.

Sunday: The traditional meet showcase, the $500,000 Overbrook Spinster, should provide a riveting showdown among Wild Spirit, Take Charge Lady, and several other top-class fillies and mares on the same afternoon that filly-mare turf runners clash in the $500,000 WinStar Galaxy. Nominations to the Galaxy include Bien Nicole, Heat Haze, Megahertz, Snow Dance, Tates Creek, and Voodoo Dancer.

Top seven next goal for Bejarano

There has been no disputing the dominance of Rafael Bejarano in recent months. After using his momentum from the last few weeks of the Churchill Downs spring meet to easily win the Ellis Park riding title, it appears that Bejarano might well be the leading rider this fall at Turfway - even after riding exactly half of the 22-day meet. Bejarano was scheduled to miss the last five days at Turfway because of a suspension stemming from a riding infraction.

Yet the coming weeks at Keeneland and Churchill will be critical in determining how racing fans measure Bejarano against the more accomplished jockeys on the Kentucky circuit. Bejarano's agent, Steve Elzey, said he is optimistic that "we'll hold our own" at Keeneland.

"I can't really say I've got my book full yet," said Elzey. "But if you consider that we only won two at Keeneland last spring, I'm pretty sure we'll do better this time, and keep doing even better after that. I can't say we'll be leading rider or even in the top five, but I'd say that the top seven would be a good meet."

Prado back on Take Charge Lady

Edgar Prado, who won the Overbrook Spinster last year aboard Take Charge Lady, will be back aboard the Ken McPeek-trained star again in this year's running. Prado replaces Shane Sellers, who has been the regular rider of Take Charge Lady the entire year.

"Edgar won on her in the same race last year," said McPeek. "It was a business decision."

Sellers was aboard Take Charge Lady for a workout last Saturday at Churchill. He was taken off his scheduled mount in the Kentucky Cup Mile, Hard Buck, later that day by McPeek. Hard Buck won with Brice Blanc aboard.