02/05/2004 12:00AM

Measuring true class among turf runners


When handicapping turf races, many believe that it is best to focus on the "class on grass." The belief is that early speed and time take on less importance in turf races, thereby making class more significant.

Even grass speed figures are to a great extent an interpretation of class. In many cases, few turf races are run on a given card, so there is less data for time comparisons and figure handicappers must project - or estimate - their numbers.

It has been my experience that these projections are accurate when dealing with experienced turf horses, but they are essentially educated guesses and are less accurate when analyzing horses with limited turf racing experience.

That is why making figures for turf races at the current Gulfstream Park meeting has been a challenge. The track has offered a number of maiden grass races for 3-year-olds, races in which typically two-thirds of the field has not even raced on turf. Some may not even have raced at all.

I find it difficult to compile my own figures for these maiden races, particularly when there is only one other turf race that day, and it is at a different distance.

If class takes on more importance, why compile a figure at all? The reason is that class is difficult to define in maiden races. Unlike in a three-other-than allowance, for example, when the classiest horses are typically those who have run best in stakes, class is harder to ascertain with maidens.

Is the "class" of the race the horse that ran second, beaten four lengths, in an eight-horse field, or is it the horse that was third, beaten two lengths, in a nine-horse field? It is a puzzler.

To get a better feel for grass races, I like to compile a list of all the turf winners at the meet, and break them into groups relative to the placement of the rail. So I will have a listing of winning turf horses that ran with the rail at 0 feet, those that won with the rail at 10 feet, and so on.

Dividing these listings in this manner is a necessity because times and fractions will differ depending on the rail's placement.

Accompanying this column is one such listing from the Gulfstream meet, for about 1 1/16 miles and about 1 1/8 miles with the rail 25 feet out.

In looking at the chart, a few things are clear. First, because of the placement of the rail, the interior fractions for four and six furlongs played much slower than normal. Second, the races from Jan. 23 produced the fastest times, hinting that the course was quickest that afternoon. And third, as one would expect, older allowance horses ran much quicker than inexperienced maidens did.

What I found most interesting were the differences in the times among the maiden races. Turf conditions can differ from day to day due to rainfall or watering of the course, but in some cases there was a massive difference of two seconds among maiden races.

I plan to use the accompanying chart as a time/class measuring tool. On the basis of its fast time, the maiden race won by Minge Cove will probably develop into a key race. Conversely, I anticipate poor subsequent efforts from those that exit the slow race won by Pincay.

With a glance at the chart, I also know that the pace was deceptively quick in the races won by Hockey Jock and Minge Cove, and that the races won by Desert Deed and Pincay had slow fractions.

Combined with observations from the races, this data can make class determinations on turf more than guesswork.

Turf races at GP - with rails 25 feet out

1 1/16 miles

DateNameType of raceBeyer2f split4f split6f split1m splitFinal Time
1/23Spotted OwlN3X Older9523.9749.771:14.051:38.221:44.02
1/09KathirOpt Clm100k9623.8248.571:12.241:37.801:44.29
1/08On The BusN1X Older F&M8523.6948.961:13.321:38.491:44.60
1/21Hockey JockMSW 3yo7423.6449.281:13.511:39.871:46.19
1/21Ancient MythMSW 3yo7124.1650.941:15.771:40.671:46.54
1/09Desert DeedMSW 3yof6624.8152.051:17.261:42.051:48.11

1 1/8 miles

DateNameType of raceBeyer2f split4f split6f split1m splitFinal Time
1/23GloriosaN1X Older F&M8624.0150.251:14.301:40.111:51.86
1/07ApproachN2X Older F&M9024.1750.871:15.331:40.961:52.25
1/22Minge CoveMSW 3yof7624.8251.551:15.461:40.951:52.91
1/22CuyahogaMSW 3yof6924.8452.511:17.441:42.871:54.50
1/07PincayMSW 3yo7725.4253.371:18.751:44.371:55.75