05/27/2008 11:00PM

Ins and outs of betting Woodbine turf races


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Grass racing recently returned to Woodbine, which means many full fields of intriguing 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.

Some believe that speed horses are at an advantage when the portable rail is placed in lanes four or five, mainly because the closers have less room to work with in the stretch.

"You see a lot more bunching up in lanes four and five," said jockey Robert Landry. "Everyone who has horse is scrambling to try and push their way through. A lot more guys are getting in trouble, and have to check. The farther the lanes are out, the more ground you give up with [a closer] when you have to come around a bunch of horses. The chances of getting through aren't as good, because you have less ground to work with."

Conversely, closers have a better chance to strut their stuff when the portable rail is in lanes one or two. "You've got a lot more room to work with then," said Landry.

Racing writer Chris Lomon enjoys keying in on certain riders when he plays Woodbine's grass races, notably Patrick Husbands and Jono Jones.

"They're both very smart and very patient," Lomon said. "Jono is always able to pick his spot, and make his move at the right time. The same goes for Patrick. The other thing I like about Patrick is that he never panics if his horse doesn't break well, because he knows that he has the long stretch to work with. He settles the horse before making his move."

Lomon believes Landry and Constant Montpellier are also worth following on the grass, especially on longshots.

"I think Rob Landry is one of the smartest turf riders," said Lomon. "He had 16 turf wins last year. He knows every inch of the course. He's very intelligent in knowing whether he wants his horse up front, tucked in, or coming from off the pace.

"Montpellier's mind-set is to always save ground, and to wait for a seam to open up. He doesn't feel the need to panic, because he knows something will eventually open up."

Other local riders worth following on the grass are David Clark, Emma-Jayne Wilson, and Chantal Sutherland, who won 11 turf races at the Santa Anita winter meeting.

Hugh Chatman, trainer Mark Frostad's assistant, believes some horses are not ideally suited to Woodbine's expansive course. One horse who hasn't done his optimum running at Woodbine recently is the Frostad-trained French Beret, who won the Grade 3 Colonel Bradley Handicap on the infield turf course at Fair Grounds last January.

"He's a headstrong bugger," said Chatman, "and you can cover him up and get him off the pace a lot easier on an inner turf course than you can at Woodbine. That's the way to get the best results from him, unless he's in a race where he's much the best.

"He gave a good account of himself both times when we ran him off a layoff at Keeneland, and he ran good all winter at the Fair Grounds."

Chatman thinks Woodbine's turf course plays differently from those at Fair Grounds and Keeneland, two tracks that send quite a few turf shippers here in the spring and early summer.

"The Fair Grounds usually favors horses coming from off the pace, whereas Keeneland is a pretty fair course," said Chatman. "You seldom see horses win [at Fair Grounds] after sitting on the pace. Woodbine has a long stretch, and big sweeping turns. You can win [from anywhere], but you're best off if you can get your horse covered up. There's a lot more room to negotiate, whereas on the inside turf courses, you don't have a lot of room to play with."