10/11/2001 11:00PM

To determine future bias, you have to look to the past


LEXINGTON, Ky. - I have friends who won't make a serious bet at a new race meeting until three weeks of races have been run. By that time track-bias trends have probably sorted themselves out on both the main track and the turf course, and my friends finally feel confident enough to remove the rubber bands from their bankroll.

That type of caution, while laudable, just doesn't work at Keeneland. If you take off the first 15 days of racing, you will only have two days remaining at this 17-day fall race meet. So handicappers who focus on Keeneland are forced to make educated guesses about how the track is playing based on what long-term trends suggest is most likely to happen, and on what has actually happened from the small sample of races that have been run during the first few days.

Here is my take on the first five days of racing:

Friday, Oct. 5: Opening day was a fairly typical day, with a moderate speed bias. Four of the six races on the dirt were won by runners who were among the first three at the first call. Some observers were overly influenced by the fact that the first two races on the card were won by horses who rallied from eighth and fifth, respectively. Both were big longshots ($103.40 and $61.60). Also, only one of the six dirt winners led gate to wire. But that's deceptive, because two other winners on the card were only a head and a half-length behind the leader at the first call. As is often the case, early speed was much more effective in the turf sprint than it was in the two turf routes.

Saturday, Oct. 6: The main track was muddy for the first race. It was rated "good" for the next two races, then was fast for the rest of the day. The moisture in the track during the early part of the card didn't seem to have any impact. The track was fair to all running styles throughout the day, with three of the seven winners on the dirt among the first three to the first call, and three others among the last three. The turf was rated "good." Once again, tactical speed was preferred in the turf sprint. The turf route was won from midpack.

Sunday, Oct. 7: There were no wire-to-wire winners on the dirt, but horses with tactical speed fared about as well as closers did. Three winners of the seven races on the dirt were located second at the first call and another was third. Three others rallied from eighth place to win. Closers won both of the turf routes.

Wednesday, Oct. 10: After two straight days of unbiased results on the dirt, handicappers could have been forgiven for being hesitant to have strong opinions, or to make firm stands with any large bets on the first day of the first full week of racing. But those fears turned out to be unfounded. Predictability returned when five of the seven races on the dirt were won by horses who were among the first three at the first call. All seven winners on the main track were located in the front half of the field at that call. The two turf routes were both won from the rear half of the field at the first call.

Thursday, Oct. 11: We might be settling into a nice trend that will suit most serious players. Five of the seven races on the main track were won by the horses who were among the first three at the first call. But one of them, Dream Run, rallied from third in a five-horse field, so it would be fairer to regard him as winner from midpack. Nasty Tour, who rallied from fourth in a field of eight, also fits into the midpack category. The lone winner on the dirt who was farther back than fourth at the first call was Deportment in the second race. She bid from seventh place. But it should be noted that Deportment enjoyed a great pace scenario in a race in which the leaders finished much slower than par and were vulnerable to a late-runner.

The most remarkable thing about Thursday's results was that the turf route bias, which had been giving closers a strong boost since opening day, changed. Political Attack led all of the way in a mile race on the grass. Conserve rated just off the leader in second place, challenged the leader turning for home, and scored by 2 1/2 lengths. I would be surprised if that trend lasts very long, and I will be cautious while handicapping turf races over the next day or two.