07/18/2008 12:00AM

Course bias may affect Eddie Read


LEXINGTON, Ky. - There has been a lot of talk among handicappers about how Del Mar's Polytrack is going to play this year. The race times were much faster during the first two days at this meet than they were last year, but that doesn't necessarily mean that horses with early and tactical speed will be dominant. In fact, over the first two days of the meet, the 18 percent win rate for first-call leaders was subpar.

Lost in all of the talk about Polytrack is the fact that the turf course hasn't yet been very kind to early speed, either. The first-call leader owns only a half-win from the first four two-turn grass races so far. That's a half-win rather than a full win, because that early-lead winner was involved in a dead heat. Add in the losses by the front-runners in two turf sprints, and the win rate for early speed on the turf at Del Mar is just 8 percent. Of course, the sample sizes are small, but these early patterns do provide an interesting first clue for handicappers.

That clue is worth considering as we contemplate the chances of the contenders in Sunday's Grade 1 Eddie Read Handicap, a 1 1/8-mile turf race.

Lava Man is an interesting possibility. If he's on his game he is clearly the class of the field. The bad news is that he has lost five consecutive races. The good news is that he appears to be rounding back into form, and might be set for a big effort. Although he didn't rate kindly when he drew off to a long early lead and finished third in the Grade 1 Whittingham last time out, Lava Man has shown that he is willing to relax and rate up close to the leader in most of his races. So jockey Tyler Baze might have more luck with him as they become more familiar with each other in their second try as a team. But if Lava Man doesn't cooperate, Storm Military, who is likely to set or force the pace, will make Lava Man's task that much tougher. If early and tactical speed are a disadvantage, taking a mild price on Lava Man would not be a good gamble.

Monzante finished third in the Grade 2 Strub at Santa Anita three races ago, but his other races on synthetic surfaces were only ordinary. He ran a much-improved race on the move to turf when he rallied to miss by only a neck in the Whittingham last time. A solid pace would raise the chances of horses who rally from off the pace, and Monzante has been a deep closer in his recent races. Horses with that running style aren't always the ones best positioned to capitalize on that favorable pace scenario.

Other off-the-pace runners who will be closer to striking distance will have the opportunity to make the first run at the leaders. And if the pace turns out to be only ordinary, their task will be much easier than the one facing the deep closers.

Spring House has the talent necessary to win this race. He defeated Grade 3 company at Santa Anita in the Carleton F. Burke, and two races later won the Grade 2 San Luis Obispo. He was a closer to the pace in those 1 1/2-mile races than he figures to be Sunday as he cuts back three furlongs.

I like Whatsthescript best. He was on the sidelines for six months, then looked great beating Storm Military in the Grade 2 American Handicap at Hollywood in his return. He wasn't asked for his best for most of the stretch run, but still put away the rest of the field with a brief, explosive move. He has enough tactical speed to stay within easy striking distance throughout, and can repeat as a winner if he is able to match that impressive effort second time back.