Updated on 09/16/2011 7:52AM

Gulfstream turf bias an easy mark


This year's turf course at Gulfstream Park has passed through a series of bias phases. Anyone paying even scant attention couldn't help but notice them. And they've certainly been well advertised. Trainers such as Eddie Broome have commented publicly on how speed was dying early in the meeting, but that the course had "tightened up some since then."

Speed and inside was a severe disadvantage from the first grass races on Jan. 4 through at least Jan. 14, perhaps as late as the 18th. (It's difficult to make a precise judgment about when the bias faded because they've been running only two turf races each day, there has been intermittent rain, and the shift has been gradual.) Sometime during the third week in January the turf course finally firmed up and made the transition to a more-or-less even surface.

Surprisingly, the widespread broadcasting of this bias does not seem to have affected how the bettors have played recent turf races. In fact, there have been some very big prices on some solid, against-the-bias horses.

Here are some prime examples:

* Wander Mom was the first to test the bias. She had dueled for the lead on Jan. 4 and tired very late, but still ran a solid Beyer of 89. She came back in the De La Rose Handicap on Jan. 25 and finished third, beaten only a neck at 29-1. She improved to a lifetime-best Beyer of 97.

* North East Bound had dueled for the lead on Jan. 5, losing by a head in the Appleton Handicap. He returned at 7-2 in the Ft. Lauderdale Handicap on Jan. 26, but fell victim in the last jump to heavily favored Del Mar Show, who barely survived a famous bad trip.

* Deed I Do chased and dueled on the inside on Jan. 13, hanging in gamely while earning a strong 90 Beyer. That put her high up on my horses-to-watch list. While she has never lived up to her early promise on the dirt, that debut effort on the grass showed unusual ability and determination. On Jan. 27 she confirmed the value of the early Gulfstream turf bias. After a perfect ride from Edgar Prado, she caught the front-running Bay Street Gal, winning by a head. She paid $22.80 as the second-longest shot in the field.

* Delirio had also tired on the lead on Jan 13, and in her next start she found herself as the absolute lone speed in a small field of seven. She cruised along on a slow pace, but could not withstand a big run by the improving Jennasietta. Delirio lost by a half-length at 10-1.

* Cellars Shiraz was the third runner to come back big after dueling for the lead on Jan. 13. She returned in the Herecomesthebride, a Grade 3 for 3-year-old fillies on Feb. 3. Virtually the entire field of ten had been running Beyer figures in the low 80's, including Cellars Shiraz who had run 83 as a 2-year-old back in November, and 80 in her tough trip in January. So the race looked too complicated. But Cellars Shiraz, who lost by only a half-length on Jan. 13, was 18-1, while Kathy K D, who had closed and caught her late, was 3-1. In the Herecomesthebride, Kathy K D never got untracked, while Cellars Shiraz sat just off the pace and surged late to a 1 1/4-length win. She paid $39.40.

* T.N.T. Red chased a fast pace on Jan. 14, fading to fourth, beaten only three lengths. He came back at the same level on Feb. 6 at 7-2. In addition to the tough trip in his previous start, he also had the perfect cycling figure pattern and could easily run a Beyer in the upper 80's. Only one other contender, the heavy favorite Ogilia could compete at that level. Unfortunately, T.N.T. Red spent the first sixteenth dueling with pacesetting Racing for Pahm before finally settling back to chase. That was all the favorite needed. Ogilia, with another perfect ride from Prado, caught T.N.T. Red in the last few yards.

* And then there was Scagnelli, who might very well owe me more money than any other horse, living or dead. He had tired after setting the pace on Jan. 12, losing to the classy Drama Critic by 2 1/4 lengths. Quite logically, he was picked by many and played very strongly when he returned on Feb. 15. Fortunately, my long and (mostly) unhappy experience with Scagnelli, as well as his low 2-1 odds, made me sit this one out. And when Scagnelli didn't get the lead and had to chase the pace, I could have predicted the outcome: he gave it up, finishing sixth, nearly eight lengths behind. Sometimes you have to leave room for your long painful experience to keep you out of trouble.

Despite Scagnelli's failure, this early anti-speed turf bias at Gulfstream has clearly produced. It has created a number of big opportunities. And in this difficult business of handicapping, when you find an angle that works, you have to ride it for all it's worth - before too much time passes and the angle fades and disappears.