05/19/2009 11:00PM

How to cash more tickets on Woodbine's turf


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Grass racing recently returned to Woodbine, which means many large fields of intriguing horses and sometimes indecipherable races.

The European-style E.P. Taylor turf course, which encircles the main track, is 1 1/2 miles in circumference. Its stretch, at 1,440 feet, is the longest of any track in North America.

The course can be divided into five lanes, with the innermost lane saved primarily for the days on which major stakes are staged, such as the Canadian International and Woodbine Mile.

A dry summer helps produce a hard course, which often favors front-runners and stalkers. In fact, speed is usually the dominant style on this course whenever dry conditions occur for any length of time.

Woodbine TV commentator Jeff Bratt said he believes that front-runners have an advantage when the portable rail is placed in the outer lanes, especially when the course is very firm.

"It seems like horses on the front end under these conditions have a distinct advantage," said Bratt. "The long stretch doesn't appear to be as intimidating, and closers often get into trouble, with a narrower stretch to come through."

Bratt said late runners have an advantage when lanes one or two are used, or when the course is on the soft side.

"Speed horses tend to tire themselves out on the giving going, and closers are able to have a big impact late in a race," Bratt explained. "The fall is a great time to go longshot shopping, because speed horses that did well earlier in the year are overbet, and the closers who struggled with the firm going during the summer months now have the opportunity to run their best."

The horse-for-course angle can be effective on the Taylor turf. Many horses thrive while traveling around the wide, sweeping turns, and others are more comfortable competing on infield turf courses.

Naturalyontherocks, the beaten favorite in the first turf event of the meet last Saturday, seemingly prefers the turf at Fair Grounds, where he captured a first-level allowance by 6 3/4 lengths in March.

The sandy Fair Grounds course is totally different from Woodbine's. The more expansive Gulfstream course also has a sandy base, and it was rock hard last winter due to the fact that there was little rainfall in south Florida. Turf specialists who underperformed over either course last winter might improve significantly when they get back onto Woodbine's lusher grass.

Handicappers seeking accomplished turf trainers should reference the 2009 edition of Jim Mazur's "Winning at Woodbine," which lists the turf records for all trainers over the past two meets. Those based at Woodbine with a win average of at least 15 percent (minimum 10 starters) are Roger Attfield, Earl Barnett, Mac Benson, Ian Black, Mark Casse, Eric Coatrieux, Greg de Gannes, Mike DePaulo, Debbie England, Mark Frostad, Nick Gonzalez, Wray Lawrence, John LeBlanc Jr., Tony Mattine, Steve Owens, and Lorna Perkins.

Successful Ontario sires on turf include the deceased Ascot Knight, Bold Executive, Bold N' Flashy, Trajectory, Tethra, and Tejano Run, whose first Ontario-sired crop competes this year.

Young Ontario stallions worth following on the grass include freshman sire Mobil and second-year sire Tomahawk, who is well-regarded by trainer Mike DePaulo.

"Most of the Tomahawks I have, I think are going to really like the grass," said DePaulo. "Tomahawk's dam won stakes on the grass in New York, and he was a champion 2-year-old in Ireland."

Finishing power can be important in turf racing, and information on how fast horses complete their races is more plentiful than ever these days.

Daily Racing Form's Formulator Web is an interactive program that enables users to research incremental and elapsed times for all horses in the entries, with just a few clicks of the mouse.

Trakus, a wireless horse-tracking system used at Woodbine, lists the final quarter-mile time for all runners on Woodbine's TV coverage, after each race is run.