05/18/2016 3:42PM

Duke Matties leans hard on track bias


For Duke Matties and his brother Paul, track biases aren’t just a real factor in handicapping, they can be the difference maker. To use bias information correctly, a lot of extra work is required, and you have to love what you’re doing if you’re going to succeed.

Duke, who won a berth to this weekend’s Santa Anita Preakness contest on Saturday via DRFQualify.com, first learned about track biases in the late 80s and early 90s at Finger Lakes. “They had one of the biggest inside speed biases I’ve ever seen,” he said. “A horse would get to the rail and it was like a conveyor belt every day.”

He also recalls seeing severe biases on certain days at Suffolk Downs back in that era. “There were days when the jockeys would ride [many] paths out from the rail because the inside was so dead,” he said.

Today’s biases are much more subtle. Matties credits track superintendents and their improved equipment with eliminating the severe biases of the past, but the biases are still critical to the work he does, largely because they are so misunderstood.

“People almost try to invent a bias; they’ll see two races go wire to wire and say ‘It must be a speed bias,’ ” he said. “You’ve got to make sure that there really is one, you can’t just invent it in your head.”

Matties has an elaborate system to verify biases. In "The Winning Contest Player," he explained it:

“I watch probably 50 to 100 replays a day, from around the country. I’ll note in what path each horse was, if they were on the inside or the outside, and I’ll compare their speed figures from that day to previous speed figures. Say the average horse that was on the rail that day ran 10 points higher than usual -- that’s where I come up with the idea that there was a rail bias. I’ll do the same thing in reverse as well.  If the outside horses ran 10 to 15 points lower, that’s the same thing. I’d say the inside part of the track was better that day. It’s all based on real data.”

The data part is important because a lot of times a seeming “bias” isn’t a bias at all – it’s just the result of a horse being alone on the lead, a situation that allows a runner to relax and run its best race. A bias can reveal itself in many ways. “A lot of times when you see a duel and you see the inside horse keeps going on, that might tell me there’s a bias,” Matties said, “The track will carry them and I think a lot of times that’s caused by the track being not as deep on the inside.”

There are times where Matties will make real-time bias plays but he cautions against doing so haphazardly. “You can do it on the day of the bias, but you’ve got to be very good at designing races,” he said. “You’ve got to have good pace and speed figures so you can know who is going to be up front, who is going to be inside, who is going to be outside. You’ve got to pay attention to see what jockeys might know to save ground or what jockeys aren’t saving ground. Post positions start to mean more when you have an inside or outside bias. You have to keep all that stuff in mind.”

The work involved can be tiresome – Matties spent his Tuesday morning doing trip work from Finger Lakes – but the rewards can be outstanding. There’s no better example than this year’s National Handicapping Championship where both Duke and Paul made deep runs, with Duke running fourth and Paul winning the whole thing. One of Paul’s most important winners was the result of a bias play.

Earlier this year, Paul described the agony and the ecstasy of bias handicapping perfectly. “I was joking to everybody that I’d spent all this time on Indiana Downs watching replays and checking out biases and it hadn’t paid off for two years,” he said, “and then this horse who had run on a bad rail at Indiana pops up in an off-the-turf race at Gulfstream, and even before he won, I said to my father, ‘All that Indiana work is finally gonna pay off!’ ”

It paid off, indeed. All Up in Lights scored at 27-1 and by the end of the weekend, the Matties brothers had netted nearly $1 million doing what they loved.