05/10/2010 11:00PM

Land of the Giants samples dirt


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Nearly three weeks have passed since the Keeneland spring meet ended, but solving the handicapping riddle of Polytrack - the synthetic main-track surface there - is still paramount, even with main-track racing in Kentucky now on dirt at Churchill Downs.

Deciphering Polytrack form seems the key to unlocking the winner of the eighth race at Churchill on Thursday, a $52,500 second-level allowance at 1 1/16 miles on dirt.

Three of the race favorites - Fine Flyer, Land of the Giants, and Headache - come off races over Keeneland's Polytrack, leaving horseplayers to wonder if they will regress, maintain, or move forward with a change in surfaces.

In the case of Land of the Giants, his ability to handle dirt is unknown. A 4-year-old Giant's Causeway colt owned by Derrick Smith and Michael Tabor and trained by Todd Pletcher, he has raced exclusively on synthetic surfaces over his four-race career, first at Santa Anita on Pro-Ride and then at Keeneland on April 16 when he whipped a first-level allowance field by more than 15 lengths.

The latter performance earned him a 92 Beyer Speed Figure.

Signals are mixed regarding whether he will be as effective on dirt. Two recent drills over the Churchill strip have been simply moderate, but Pletcher has won at a 24 percent rate over the last five years when moving horses from synthetic tracks to dirt, according to Daily Racing Form's Formulator program.

Regular rider Garrett Gomez has the mount.

In contrast, Fine Flyer and Headache are established dirt horses, including at Churchill Downs, where both have wins.

Fine Flyer, 6, took an allowance at Churchill in fall 2008 as well as a maiden race at Santa Anita back in spring 2007 when it still had a dirt surface.

Headache, 4, meanwhile, is a four-time dirt winner who has recorded two victories over the Churchill Downs strip.

Fine Flyer outran Headache when they met April 17 on the Polytrack at Keeneland, with Fine Flyer second and Headache fifth.

Prior to that race, Headache had the better winter at Gulfstream Park, running second there three times, while Fine Flyer never finished better than third in three starts there.

"His races weren't horrible at Gulfstream," trainer Tom Proctor said of Fine Flyer. "He just never ran as good as he looked or as good as he was training."