04/19/2007 11:00PM

Keeneland hard to gauge


LEXINGTON, Ky. - How should bettors play Keeneland's Polytrack? It is too soon to say for sure because Keeneland's race meets are short, and so far there have been only 1o1/2 of them since the Polytrack surface was installed.

Another reason why it is difficult to get a solid fix on the situation is that it is still evolving. Jockeys, and the trainers who talk strategy with them, are still adjusting their tactics.

Here is the brief history of Keeneland's track-bias trends: Closers dominated the first few days of the fall meet. The infamous statistic from that meet was that just one front-runner won from the first 48 Polytrack races. First impressions usually stick with racing fans, and that one has not been forgotten by most observers. But what happened next was ignored by most handicappers. There were nine front-running winners from the next 68 races. That is 13 percent. True, it is a little less than half of the 28 percent win rate for first-call leaders on the typical dirt track. But it was better than the 2 percent of wins from the horrible 1-for-48 start.

With that in mind, I was looking for something similar to the 13 percent rate when the spring meet opened. Through the first seven race cards of the spring meet, there were 56 Polytrack races. Five of them were won by the first-call leader, a 9opercent success rate. But you have to dig deeper than that to see what was going on. There were five 4 1/2-furlong races for 2-year-olds. Four of them were won by the first-call leader. Subtract those races from the overall sample and you have just one front-running winner from the 51 other races. Yes, this race meet created another infamous statistic: Two percent wins at distances longer than 4 1/2 furlongs.

But something interesting occurred on Thursday. There was an honest-to-goodness old-school Keeneland early and tactical speed bias in place on Polytrack. Apparently it is possible to enjoy the safety of Polytrack without the bizarre slow pace scenarios we saw during the first half of this race meet. The question is whether the track will continue to be this way. A lot of racing fans I know would love to see this trend be the norm rather than the exception.

I asked Keeneland track superintendent Mike Young if the bias change on Thursday was the result of any changes that were made in his maintenance of the racing surface.

"The cool weather makes it harder, so we might work it up a little more often, but I'm not sure if that has anything to do with it," said Young.

Other than that single thought, Young could not come up with any other explanation. He was as puzzled by the presence of the predominant closers' bias as he was of the one-day bias change toward favoring early speed. If Young can't figure it out, who can?

The track-bias situation is still up in the air, so the best advice I can give is for handicappers to keep an eye on the race results on Keeneland's Polytrack so they can gauge the latest twists and turns on a daily basis.

Post positions have not been crucial at Keeneland so far. Using the data from the 1 1/2 race meets, posts 9 through 12 have had a slight edge in sprints. There has been no significant post-position bias in route races.