01/01/2005 12:00AM

Look to Arlington for Gulf betting clues

The new Gulfstream turf course has been lengthened to a mile and widened to 170 feet. The course can accommodate 11 racing lanes, which should prevent the grass from getting chewed up.

Forget everything you have ever learned about Gulfstream Park - the speed-biased and demanding nature of the main track, the turf course that struggled at times to handle the demand for grass racing. Monday is a new day, a new chapter for Gulfstream Park.

The main track has been lifted three feet and expanded from a mile to 1 1/8 miles. The turf course has been lengthened from seven furlongs and 82 feet to one mile and has been widened to 170 feet, which is more than twice as wide as the old course and wider than the courses at such major tracks as Churchill Downs, Woodbine, or Arlington. With the extra width, there is room for up to 11 lanes. The hope is that having more lanes to run on will keep the course from being chewed to bits.

What does this mean for horseplayers? Long term, it should lead to a better racing product. Short term, it means bettors will have to wager blind with respect to track bias information and track trends.

No one has the faintest clue how the tracks will play. All anyone can do is speculate by comparing the new layout to other tracks.

The new conditions at Gulfstream remind me most of those at Arlington Park. The main track is the same size at both tracks, and the turf course at Arlington is 150 feet wide.

It would not surprise me to see Gulfstream play much like Arlington, a track with a relatively fair surface. Of course, Arlington is just like virtually every track in America from the standpoint that speed remains a major asset. Quick horses win races.

One might speculate on the bias for main-track races based on the placement of the starting gate. Races at 1 1/8 miles, for example, will constitute one lap around the main track and will have a relatively short run to the first turn. This seemingly puts outside horses at a disadvantage and benefits horses breaking from the inside, as they are in a better position to save ground.

At Arlington, though, the benefit of drawing inside in 1 1/8-mile races has been nonexistent. Only the far outside has proven to be a significant hurdle.

Since 2000, Posts 1-7 in 1 1/8-mile races at Arlington won at a 13- to 16-percent rate. Posts 11-14 went 1 for 30, but only 5 percent of 1 1/8-mile races at Arlington drew as many as 11 horses. Posts 13 and 14 were used only in stakes.

Monday's opener at Gulfstream drew a full field of 12 for the meet's first 1 1/8-mile dirt contest.

As for other main-track changes, Gulfstream will now card one-turn races up to a mile - much like those at Arlington and Churchill Downs. A long run to the turn in these races makes an outside draw no disadvantage.

Although one-turn miles are run more like sprints than routes, I favor stalkers in these races over than on-the-lead types. These one-turn races typically attract more sprinters than a two-turn mile race would, creating a faster pace that benefits an off-the-pace runner.

It should be interesting to see how that affects races such as the Aventura Stakes for 3-year-olds, which had been usually run at 1 1/16 miles, but will now be run over one mile.

As for the turf course, it is difficult to speculate regarding any trends. With so many lanes available, a trend that develops in lane 1 may not apply to one in an outside lane. And with the turf course still thickening and developing after being planted in mid-July, it will likely change as the winter progresses. Horsemen have noted that the grass course for now is smooth and the grass is not particularly high.

My approach to playing turf races at Gulfstream will be to apply a common-sense handicapping approach: Look for horses with class and turn of foot, and dismiss unknown elements - like the course profile - until enough races have been run to draw an accurate gauge of how the course plays.

Trainers: History counts

Irrespective of the changes to the two courses, horseplayers should continue to expect results from horsemen that have excelled at past Gulfstream meets. The accompanying chart lists trainers who have won at a rate of 25 percent or higher over the last three years at Gulfstream, provided they started at least 30 horses.

One who did not make the list because of a limited number of starters but obviously merits attention is trainer Bobby Frankel, who has a large string in south Florida this winter. He went 5 for 5 at Gulfstream from 2002-2004 while shipping in horses to race exclusively in graded stakes.

Proven Winners

Name Starts Wins Places Shows Win% In$%, ROI earnings
McLaughlin, Kiaran P. 37 16 4 1 43.24 56.76 2.92 $662,340
Bond, H. James 61 17 11 6 27.87 55.74 2.48 $795,730
Pletcher, Todd A. 311 85 55 31 27.33 54.98 1.92 $3,973,040
Klesaris, Robert P. 52 14 7 7 26.92 53.85 2.07 $146,590
Catalano, Wayne M. 60 16 9 8 26.67 55.00 2.14 $297,890
Walder, Peter R. 136 35 22 22 25.74 58.09 1.84 $467,750
Motion, H. Graham 117 30 18 17 25.64 55.56 2.69 $841,023
Shuman, Mark 344 87 58 43 25.29 54.65 1.93 $1,847,310