04/11/2012 2:49PM

Hastings: Inside posts preferred in six-furlong races

Coady Photography
Taylors Deal wins the Turf Paradise Derby. He is being pointed to the Jim Coleman Province Stakes May 5.

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – During the first two weeks of the 71-day Hastings season that begins Saturday, most of the races will be two-turn sprints going six furlongs.

The majority of the horses stabled at Hastings have been off since the 2011 meet ended last October, so the slightly shorter distance is more appealing to trainers with horses coming back from layoffs. Once the season is in full bloom, the majority of sprints will be at 6 1/2 furlongs.

One of the most important considerations in handicapping horses at Hastings is the track configuration.

At just over five furlongs in circumference, Hastings is a bull ring, but there is a notable difference between it and a similarly-shaped track horseplayers may be familiar with, Fairplex Park. The turns at Fairplex are much sharper than at Hastings and and every race, particularly sprints, are an adventure. On the other hand, Hastings has gentle, well-banked turns, and most horses easily handle them. This becomes important when horses ship in for the bigger stakes Hastings runs in the fall.

One problem with six-furlong races at Hastings is the turns come up very quickly after the start, and there is a big disadvantage for horses leaving from outside posts. In the past two years there were 22 races with 10-horse fields going six furlongs, and only one horse breaking from the outside post won. A bit surprising are the numbers from post 9, where there were nine winners in 42 races. In 2009 horses leaving from post 9 went 0 for 18, which is easier to understand, since horses that lose ground on the first turn rarely win. These stats include “about” six-furlong races for 2-year-olds, where the starting gate is set about 25 yards farther back, but are timed from the six-furlong mark.

Look for horses with decent speed. In the first two days last year, horses that were either first or second at the quarter pole won 10 of the 16 races. Three led gate to wire. Only two horses sitting worse than fourth with a quarter-mile to go were able to get up in time.

Horses who have been racing during the winter have a distinct advantage, even if they have poor form. A good example is the second race on opening day last year. The $5,000 claiming race for 3-year-olds and up drew seven horses. Alert N Wise, Rx Registrar, and Cat Brando were coming off races at Turf Paradise and the rest of the field hadn’t raced since 2010. Alert N Wise, came from a stalking position to easily beat Rx Registrar, who set the pace. Cat Brando made a late move to get up for third. Alert N Wise paid $10.60 to win. He was coming off an eighth-place finish in a $3,000 claiming race at Turf Paradise.

As the meet progresses the majority of the races will either be 6 1/2 furlongs or a mile and a sixteenth, which is contested around three turns.

The short run to the first turn going a mile and a sixteenth gives inside horses an advantage. The 6  1/2-furlong start is out of a chute and horses don’t have to be used quite as hard to get into a good position going into the first turn. It is a much fairer race.

The surface at Hastings is a blend of sandy loam and Stabilizer, a brand of natural binder that helps retain water. It plays fair, and while speed is an obvious plus because of the shape of the track, horses can make up ground if an honest pace develops. If the weather turns hot, the track tends to get loose and there is a definite speed bias.

Trainer Troy Taylor will be a force right from the start. The leading trainer for the past five years, Taylor has the bullets and he knows how to fire them. He has a strong contingent of horses that have been racing mostly in California. Heading the list is Taylor’s Deal, who won the Turf Paradise Derby in his last start. Taylor’s Deal will be among the favorites in the $50,000 Jim Coleman Province on May 5.

Taylor also has a lot of horses that were turned out during the winter. They will be just as dangerous as the ones that are racing fit. In the first month at Hastings last year Taylor won with 25 percent of his starters coming off layoffs of 61 to 120 days. In the past five years he has won at a 23-percent clip in the same category and 24 percent with horses returning from layoffs of 120 days or more.

The bad news is that most of Taylor’s horses will be underlays. If you can beat him, though, you will be rewarded.

Trainer Cindy Krasner stays home during the winter and last year she had her horses ready to roll at decent prices. In the first month she compiled a 4-2-2 record from 13 starts. She posted an impressive 3-2-1 record with eight starters coming off layoffs of 120 days or more for an ROI of $3.07.

Horses trained by Dino Condilenios appear ready to make an impact at the beginning of the meet. Last year he got off to a hot start. Opening weekend he won with Quilchena Park, $19.40 and Pop Artist, $11.80. Crew Leader has looked particularly sharp this spring and should be a major player in the $50,000 George Royal for 3-year-olds and up April 15.

Jockeys returning include Richard Hamel, who will try for his third straight riding title. His patience is one of his biggest assets.

Pedro Alvarado is the strongest and most aggressive rider at Hastings, while Amadeo Perez has a knack for bringing home deep closers. Frank Fuentes is one of the best at finding a way to save ground with horses breaking from outside posts.