12/08/2005 12:00AM

Debunking popular Polytrack myth


LEXINGTON, Ky. - There's a widespread belief among horsemen and handicappers that the Polytrack surface at Turfway is forgiving on horses' legs, resilient in harsh weather, and is often handled by turf horses that would not otherwise take to a traditional dirt course.

Although I agree with the first two parts of that - regarding the kindness and resiliency of the surface - the belief that many turf horses take to it simply is not accurate. Since the Turfway holiday meet began Nov. 27, the overwhelming majority of horses moving from turf to Polytrack have regressed off their most recent races.

Through Wednesday evening, 68 horses had made the turf-to-Polytrack move this meet at Turfway - excluding those that didn't finish or were distanced in their last races. Of that group, 46 - or 68 percent - came back to run lesser Beyer Speed Figures than what they last earned on turf. Only 22 - or 32 percent - matched or exceeded their prior-race turf Beyers.

Not wanting to penalize minimal regression, I went back and added those that only regressed 3 or fewer Beyer points to the original sample of 22. Even when these horses were added to the group of those that matched or did better than their prior-race turf Beyers, only 26 of the 68 qualified.

To put this in easy-to-understand terms, it seems that about a third of turf horses "ran their race." So what happened to the other two-thirds, those that went off form? Many ran much worse. A total of 32 of the 68 - 47 percent - ran Beyers than were at least 10 points below their last-race turf figures. In addition, 31 percent - almost matching the percentage of those that "held form" - regressed by 20 points or more.

On average, a horse moving from turf to Polytrack ran a Beyer 11 points lower than he did in his last race on grass.

Looking beyond speed figures, the record of turf horses at Turfway this meet is similarly dismal. Of the sample of 68 turf-to-Polytrack runners, 7 won, 7 placed, and 5 showed. That translates to 10 percent winners, and 28 percent in the money.

With the seven winners scoring at average odds of slightly better than 5-2, their success hardly made up for the failures of their counterparts. A bet on every turf-to-Polytrack horse would have sent a bettor to the poor house; the $2 return on investment on the 68 runners was $0.77.

Bettors should actively play against these turf-to-Polytrack runners, particularly when they are short prices. Knowing the trend that 31 percent go badly off form - by 20 Beyer points or more - in many instances these short-priced runners are good bets to get tossed from the trifecta.

The numbers of horses being moved from turf to Polytrack may decrease if such poor performances continue, but I would expect a number of bet-against opportunities to present themselves.

Because Polytrack originated in Europe, where grass racing is the focus, people want to believe that turf horses make Polytrack horses. There are also fewer grass opportunities this winter, with Fair Grounds running an abbreviated meet at Louisiana Downs.

New surface attracts more entries

Putting aside the fact that turf horses don't seem to handle Polytrack as well as many thought they would, the surface appears to be a success - at least at this early stage. How it holds up to the nastiest weather conditions remains to be seen. Turfway canceled racing Thursday in anticipation of a snowstorm, which is to be expected given how many horses are shipped to Turfway each night by vans.

One thing is clear: Horsemen are eager to enter their horses and race over the new surface. The track is averaging nearly 10.7 starters per race, up from the 9.9 it averaged throughout last year's holiday meet.

Part of that increase can be attributed to a short Fair Grounds meet at Louisiana Downs. Not as many horses were taken south for the winter.

Selections for split My Charmer

There are 28 turf-to-Polytrack horses entered in the bodies of fields for Saturday's 12-race card at Turfway. Nowhere is the glut of turf horses more evident than in both divisions of the My Charmer Stakes. In each race, there are seven horses coming off recent turf races - and in both cases, there are also-eligibles coming off turf races that could potentially draw in.

I favor dirt specialists in each division, specifically 3-year-old fillies Eyes on Eddy and Tappin for Gold. Eyes on Eddy, who starts in race 10, the first division, has an edge in class, having run competitively in graded races against fillies such as Flying Glitter and Summerly.

Tappin for Gold also drops in class after rear-half finishes in the Anne Arundel and Chilukki stakes. She starts in the second division, race 11.