10/12/2007 12:00AM

Keeneland track bias has changed

EmailLEXINGTON, Ky. - Since the first race meet run on Keeneland's Polytrack a year ago, closers have typically been dominant early in the meet, and remained so through the middle of the meet. At that point, the Polytrack surface has become fairer to horses with early and tactical speed. Not fair, but closer to being fair so those horses with early and tactical speed are at less of a disadvantage.

Through Thursday, this meet has been much different, and much better in terms of track bias, but I haven't heard handicappers discussing that fact, probably because there haven't been any days when horses with early speed, or closers, won most of the races. Without those extremes to draw attention to the current track trend, it has largely escaped detection.

There hasn't been a speed bias, with just one front-running winner on each of the first five race cards. But there has been a more subtle trend in place in sprint races on Polytrack. Horses who have tactical speed have been very effective. There have been 11 races where the winner was located among the first three horses at the first call. That is more than twice as many as the five races where the winner was a closer located among the last three horses at the first call.

Of course, it helps that horses with tactical speed only need to rally past the one or two horses in front of them at the first call. It stands to reason that they will have better trips than the horses in mid-pack, or the closers who must often rally five, six, or seven wide when they make their move. But the tactical speed trend is still significant since at past meets those horses were unable to capitalize on that same advantage, and watched opponents who lost more ground than they did sail right past them down the stretch.

Many handicappers would be happy to see this trend remain in place, because it makes Keeneland's Polytrack surface more closely resemble the traditional pace characteristics of most dirt tracks, which is a good thing.

From a smaller sample of races, Polytrack routes have been neutral so far with three winners coming from the first three running positions, and the same number of winners among the last three horses at the first call.

There were a couple of interesting trips during the first few days of racing. Racecar Rhapsody is a 2-year-old who debuted in the fourth race on Oct. 7, a six-furlong maiden special. He broke about eight lengths behind his field, then made a sustained move to circle most of his rivals, and was going strongly late when he finished second, 2 1/2 lengths behind the winner, and 6 1/4 lengths clear of third. If he breaks with his field, and if this heroic effort didn't take so much out of him that it causes him to bounce, he will be very hard to deny in his next start.

The difficult trip Vancy Pants had was much more subtle. She was stuck along the inside in traffic most of the way in the fifth race on Oct. 10, a one-mile, first-level allowance on the turf. She didn't find running room until it was too late in deep stretch, but made good progress during that brief time, and finished fifth with gas left in the tank. She will be a serious threat in a similar spot with a better trip next time.