08/08/2007 11:00PM

Meet half over, some still struggling with Poly


DEL MAR, Calif. - The 2007 Del Mar meet reaches the halfway point as soon as Wondrous Event wins race 5 on Saturday. It's a good time to clean out the notebook.

So here goes . . .

* Tasha's Miracle was awarded an 80 Beyer Figure on Wednesday in the Grade 3 Sorrento Stakes, and the number does no justice to her authoritative victory. Tasha's Miracle pressed the pace, powered home without being hard-ridden, and should run farther than 6 1/2 furlongs. But she also got a perfect trip in the clear, and must improve Sept. 3 in the Grade 1, seven-furlong Del Mar Debutante, where she may face dazzling maiden winners Spring Awakening (85 Beyer) and Comical Vacation (81).

* Speaking of Beyer Figures, the pace dynamics of Polytrack route races have frustrated speed handicappers. Nashoba's Key was awarded a 97 Beyer last Sunday in the Grade 2 Clement Hirsch Handicap, when she went 1 1/16 miles in 1:48.29. Andrew Beyer explained that the figure was a "projected number that reflects the true ability of the horses" rather than a "true" number that would be virtually meaningless. The pace of the Hirsch was a joke - a half in 51.07 seconds, three-quarters in 1:16.37. Just like turf.

* Not that it makes much difference, but did anyone catch the monster gallop-out by Nashoba's Key? She was a sixteenth of a mile in front by the time she reached the backstretch.

* For the first time since 2004, Victor Espinoza is not likely to win the Del Mar riding title. However, his Hirsch ride on Balance might be the best of summer. Espinoza drifted out going into the far turn, trapped Joe Talamo and Nashoba's Key behind the leaders, kept them boxed, and got first run into the lane. Unfortunately for Espinoza, Balance was not good enough. Fortunately for Talamo, Nashoba's Key has wicked acceleration that she used to overcome her trip and win clear.

* Halfway through the meet, and still no horse has raced wire to wire in a main-track race at 1 1/16 miles. Through Thursday, Polytrack pacesetters were 0 for 10 at that distance. At one mile, Polytrack pacesetters were 2 for 19.

* The biggest underlay of the meet was Sorrento favorite One Hot Wish, hammered to even-money based on her only start, way back in April. One Hot Wish finished up the track Wednesday. Big surprise. A close second in the "bad chalk" category had to be odds-on A.P. Xcellent, runner-up by a nose to Lava Man in the Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup, then off the board when he switched to grass Aug. 1 for an $85,000 turf stakes.

* It was unfortunate that trainer Bob Baffert shipped many of his horses to Saratoga, because now there are fewer opportunities for one of the most profound bet-against angles of the synthetic era. Since last fall, Baffert has won with less than 9 percent of his synthetic starters (10 for 112). His overbet runners produced a return on investment of 70 cents for each $2 win bet.

* With stall space at Del Mar at a premium, you have to wonder - how many Del Mar stalls will Baffert be allotted next summer?

* Oh well, there is always Bruce Headley to pick on. Headley entered the Thursday card a combined 0 for 41 on Cushion Track and Polytrack. At least his horses are firing - 12 runner-up finishes.

* It is always good news for contrarians when an out-of-state trainer such as Cody Autrey ships in with a lofty reputation from an easier circuit. As of Thursday, Midwest-based Autrey was 1 for 16 at Del Mar and had saddled six beaten favorites. Autrey has had 10 horses claimed from him for $304,000. Autrey previously claimed those 10 for $292,000.

* All you can really say about the bad favorites and slumping stables on Polytrack is that summer 2007 is a great time to be a skeptic.

* Bettors who believe jockeys matter on Polytrack will be tempted to back Alpine Nugget on Saturday in race 2. His regular rider is Alex Solis, who entered Thursday 1 for 34 on Polytrack. The jockey switch on Saturday is to Joe Talamo (16 for 95 Poly). However, Alpine Nugget's trainer is Headley. So, never mind.

* Racing on Polytrack often resembles grass racing more than dirt racing. That might explain why Corey Nakatani, undeniably the best grass rider in California, also has the highest win percentage on Polytrack. Entering Thursday, he was 9 for 35 on Poly (25 percent).

* Funny thing about the new surface - speed is a liability around two turns, but an asset running short. Hope the trend continues Saturday, because Topper's Smiling (race 3) and Saucy Officer (race 8) will be on the lead going 6 1/2. It's a good spot - 12 of the first 22 races at the distance were won by a horse within a length of the lead at the first pace call.

* There is no way to be certain if Balance and Buzzards Bay are past their prime, or if they simply do not like synthetic surfaces. Both Grade 1 winners ran below par this summer on Polytrack at Del Mar, both will race next time on conventional dirt. Gut feeling? Bet against them both.

* In case you did not notice - the outside lanes are the best place to be on Polytrack, while on Cushion Track horses routinely rally inside. Night and day.

* If you like seven-horse fields, you love turf sprints at Del Mar. All but one turf sprint this summer had seven starters (the other had a whopping eight). What is the point?

* Speaking of turf, Del Mar sure makes it easy on handicappers by carding races with the temporary rails out in the parking lot. Have you noticed? When the rails are out at 14 feet, closers are at a severe disadvantage, and front-runners have all the best of it.

* Is there a bigger cinch on Saturday at Arlington than Citronnade in the Grade 1 Beverly D.? Didn't think so.