08/12/2004 12:00AM

Insiders get a jump in turf sprints


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The inside is an advantage at some racetracks and a detriment at others. This meet at Ellis Park, drawing the inside in turf sprints has been the equivalent of getting a head start. Posts 1 and 2 have accounted for 49 percent of the winners in 5 1/2-furlong grass races there.

Handicappers know to keep watch for track biases on the main track, regularly checking for how speed is holding or if the rail is good or bad. In general, they tend to focus on other factors on turf, believing it is a fairer surface.

When horseplayers do look at track bias on turf, they typically look in two areas. Some upgrade speed horses when the temporary rail is out, believing this creates an advantage for front-runners. And others favor inside horses when there is a short run to the turn - as in turf races going a two-turn mile at Ellis Park.

Beyond that, track bias on grass is largely ignored. But I'm not one to ignore the stats from Ellis. The numbers are far too powerful to suggest they are random.

The inside post has won eight of 37 turf sprints, a success rate of 22 percent. Post 2 has done even better, accounting for 10 winners, or a win rate of 27 percent.

As for the other posts, no other starting position has better than a 14-percent win rate. Care to guess what post it was? Post 3. Most of the other posts have win percentages in the single digits.

Because these numbers are based on a sample of only 37 races, chance plays a bigger role than it would in a larger sample. Consider the numbers for horses starting from post 2. The 10 winners started at average odds of 2.82-1, well below the typical odds of 4-1 or so of the winners that broke from surrounding posts. Its win percentage was inflated by having a larger number of favorites start from that position.

Yet these horses still outperformed the betting public's expectations. The $2 return on investment for horses that broke from post 2 was $2.06. It was $2.22 for those that started from the rail.

Two other posts - 6 and 8 - also showed a positive a return on investment (post 6, $2.62; post 8, $2.37) because of a pair of longshot winners that boosted their returns.

Last year's results also reflected an inside bias in turf sprints, with posts 1 and 3 having the most winners. The advantage was not as strong as this year, with the fence winning seven of 36 races in turf sprints (19 percent). Post 2 went 3 for 36 and post 3 was 6 for 36. Of the inside posts, only post 3 had a favorable ROI in 2003.

In checking post position stats for current meets at Arlington, Calder, Delaware Park, Del Mar, and Pimlico - tracks where turf sprints are contested - I was surprised to find that inside runners in turf sprints there had not won at a much higher rate than the norm. Combining the figures from those five tracks, horses starting from the inside two posts have won 31 percent of the races.

Will the two inside posts at Ellis continue to win nearly half of the turf sprints at Ellis Park? Probably not. I would expect the fence to win at a little more than 20 percent and post 2 at a percentage in the high teens over the long term. But all things being equal, turf sprinters starting from the inside at Ellis Park there should be strongly preferred by horseplayers.

Experience counts at 5 1/2 furlongs on turf

More so than in other types of races, 5 1/2-furlong turf races at Ellis Park favor those with experience. When turf horses who have won at 5 1/2 furlongs come back in other 5 1/2-furlong grass races at Ellis Park this meet, they have a record of 5 wins and 2 seconds from 9 starts.

That is a striking record considering that many were forced to step up in class following their victory. Most were strongly supported, but not all. Redeyed Charmer ($14) and Mighty Patriot ($8.40) won on the rise earlier this month.

Winners often repeated last year, as well, also going 5 for 9. All but one was favored, but Twinkle and Shine won stepping up in class last year at odds of over 7-1.

Outside posts a killer in dirt routes

Post position analysts should also take note of data from main track routes at Ellis Park this meet. In mile and 1 1/8-mile races on the Ellis dirt course, posts 7-12 are a combined 3 for 130.

Mile races start on a half-turn out of the chute at Ellis, while 1 1/8-mile races start in close proximity to the clubhouse turn.