05/10/2007 11:00PM

Less bias at Arlington than Keeneland


LEXINGTON, Ky. - There is a new Polytrack surface in place for the new race meet at Arlington Park that began on May 4. The key question for handicappers is whether it will be more like the surface at Keeneland, which favored closers most of the time, or more like the other formulations of Polytrack, which have been kinder to horses with early and tactical speed.

The early returns are in with four racing cards completed:

May 4: There was an edge to early and tactical speed, but all running styles could win. There were nine Polytrack races. Two were won by the first-call leader, with another winner from second, and one other from third. But closers also won their fair share. Three of the winners were among the last three in their fields at the first call.

My objective track bias ratings, explained in my book "The Power of Early Speed," range from a high of 300 for a day when all of the early leaders win, to a low of zero when all of the races are won by closers. The May 4 card at Arlington earned a 111, which is somewhat speed-favoring.

May 5: Five of the eight races on Polytrack were won by horses who were fifth or farther back at the first call. Four of them were among the last three in their field at that point. There was also one front-running winner, and two others who rated off the pace in third. My track bias rating was a 62, which is in the lower range of numbers often seen during the first two meets on Polytrack at Keeneland.

May 6: The eight Polytrack winners were split equally, with half of the winners coming from the front half of their fields. There was only one front-running winner and another who was second early. The track bias rating was 87, which is fair to all running styles.

May 10: Early speed held the advantage today. Three of the eight Polytrack races were won by the first-call leader, with five other winners located in the front-half of their fields. That works out to a 137, which is very similar to the speed-favoring dirt results at many tracks.

The scorecard shows two days favoring early and tactical speed, one fair card, and another that gave an advantage to closers.

This is a very reasonable mixture of results for Polytrack. Early speed held a mild advantage, but that is to be expected. The horses who are on or near the lead usually save more ground than closers do, and they sometimes control the pace. They have earned their mild edge, fair and square. When a horse from mid-pack or a closer is best, he has a reasonable chance of winning. Perhaps the trend will change as we see more race cards, but so far, so good.

This nice beginning for Arlington makes the results that Keeneland achieved on its track look poor by comparison. The track bias numbers tell the story. At the Keeneland spring meet, seven of the 15 race days - nearly half - earned the following low (closer-favoring) ratings: 28, 43, 43, 43, 50, 62, 64. Those ratings are far too low to come close to resembling the norm at any dirt track at any major racing venue in this country. Keeneland's spring meet was made even more inscrutable by the presence of two heavily speed-favoring days that defied explanation, a 162 and a 200. How could anyone have seen those days coming based on the way the track played most of the time?

Meanwhile, Churchill Downs's spring-summer meet opened on April 28, and the dirt track has earned track-bias ratings that are comfortably familiar to most racing fans. From lowest to highest, the ratings were 78, 100, 100, 100, 125, 137, 171, 171. Look for some of the horses who showed speed and stopped at Keeneland to rebound at Churchill.