03/27/2002 1:00AM

Going to the charts to win at Keeneland


Lexington, Ky. - This week I got ready for Keeneland. I pulled out my lawn chair, stocked my cooler, and shook the dust off my treasured Daily Racing Form charts.

What I found surprised me. I need a new lawn chair.

I found some interesting statistical information in the charts, too, which should come in handy when the Keeneland spring meet begins next Friday.

Because of the widespread belief that the rail is the place to be at Keeneland, a post position study was a good place to start my research. Here's what I found after examining the last four meets, both spring and fall.

In sprints, the rail did not perform any better than posts 2 and 3, but the existence of an inside bias was clear. The fence won at nearly a 15 percent rate and posts 2 and 3 each won at a 17 percent clip.

Conversely, posts 11 and 12 each won at roughly a 3 percent rate - less than 20 percent as often as posts 2 and 3. Even taking into account that outside posts have lower win percentages because of large fields, those were terrible numbers.

A similar inside bias was evident in routes. Post 2 had the highest win percentage (17 percent). And the rail was the fourth-most successful post (14 percent). Although the inside didn't dominate other posts in win percentages, inside positions resulted in large numbers of on-the-board finishes. Horses from posts 1 and 2 each hit the board at least 50 percent of the time, suggesting they should be regularly used in trifectas.

Aside from the inside two posts, positions 3 and 7 also performed at a high win rate. Posts 8 and 10 had poor numbers, and 11 and 12 were a combined 0 for 36.

As revealing as the post position study of the main track was, I was stunned by the irrelevance of post positions in turf routes at Keeneland. (The sample for turf sprints was too small to warrant examination.)

With congested fields and tighter turns, logic called for the inside to succeed greatly in turf routes. But that was not the case.

Post 10, the far outside position in grass races at Keeneland, won at the highest rate (18.5 percent). The other posts were closely matched in win percentages.

In examining these findings, I see no justifiable reason why the outside should be any more successful in turf routes than other posts - other than that these far-outside runners do not have a competitor to their immediate outside. That may help them avoid trouble at the break.

More than likely the high winning percentage was a result of chance. The 54-race sample for the outside post in turf routes was small in comparison to other posts, meaning a win here or there would have inflated the numbers.

I plan to support outside posts in turf routes this meet, given that other players, who are accustomed to inside dominance, likely will penalize horses from these posts. This trend could create overlays on outside horses.

Looking past the post numbers, which jockeys and trainers performed best at Keeneland? The top rider isn't hard to guess. Over the last two spring meets, it was none other than the winningest rider in Keeneland history, Pat Day. He tied Shane Sellers for the title in 2000, then won it outright last spring. His combined numbers were 39 wins in 179 mounts, 22 percent winners.

Other regular top-five performers in my sample were Sellers (retired), Jerry Bailey, Corey Nakatani (riding in California), Robby Albarado, and Jorge Chavez.

I'm anticipating Chavez having his best Keeneland meet this spring. Now established with Kentucky trainers, Chavez seems poised to be among the three leading riders, with Day and Bailey.

On the trainer front, last year Keeneland horseplayers witnessed something they may never see again: a trainer go 5 for 6 with first-time starters. The man was trainer Ronny Werner, who won with all but one debuting runner, and most of his firsters won by open lengths.

It will be interesting to see how well he does this year. I'm expecting another good meet, but it's hard to picture anyone going 5 for 6 with first-time starters again, especially at a difficult meet like Keeneland.

Another trainer to watch with debuting runners is Frank Brothers. He compiled a 7-3-1-2 record with first-time starters here over the last two spring meets.

He and trainer Dallas Stewart should have strong overall Keeneland meets.

Both prepped their horses at Fair Grounds this winter, and have a history of doing well when they return to Kentucky.

Trainers Steve Asmussen, Josie Carroll, Mark Frostad, Neil Howard, and Chuck Simon are others who merit watching, coming up from Fair Grounds. Florida-based trainers who have done well here in past spring meets include Bill Mott, Todd Pletcher, Elliott Walden, and John Ward.

These barns are traditionally dominant in maiden, allowance, and stakes races, while stables based in Kentucky and Ohio are most competitive in claiming races.

So check your gear and your charts for racing's return to Keeneland. You can't afford to be ill-prepared.