09/07/2005 11:00PM

No rush to judgment on bias

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FLORENCE, Ky. - The first race over the Polytrack surface at Turfway Wednesday evening had not been complete for more than five minutes, and some bettors had already reached a conclusion on the track.

"Speed is dead!" one guy announced to me as a group huddled around a television, watching the replay of the opener.

Having watched a single race, a mile starter allowance in which closers finished one-two, he was convinced he had uncovered the track bias.

It was one of those nights. Everyone was an expert. Everyone had an angle that they - and only they - knew would unlock the secrets to Polytrack.

Of course, no one had the faintest clue about the track bias. How could they? Before Wednesday, most observers knew nothing of the track, aside from what they had read. Only a small percentage had seen workouts and training races over it.

Certainly, speed was not dead. Speed rolled in the second race on the card.

The opinions did not cease. With every race came a new analysis from someone, whether one asked for it or not. It was a strange handicapping night, a night when class, speed, form, and pace took a backseat to bias, dirt, and where a horse had been training.

My thoughts on the track: I'm reserving judgment on bias and other trends. I do not believe that a track can be accurately judged following one day of racing, much less after one race, as the one bettor did after the opener.

Six races were won by horses who sat among the first three early, but with short fields throughout the card, I'm not sure of that statistic's significance. Four deep closers rallied to victory, some with powerful wide moves.

Going into the races, I suspected horses familiar with the Polytrack surface - either at Turfway or at a training track, like the one at Keeneland - might have an edge. Indeed, several of the winners seemed to come from there.

Before making that the key consideration, however, realize that most Churchill Downs horsemen boycotted entries Wednesday evening, as well as for Thursday's and Friday's card. Turfway and Keeneland horses figured to do well.

My strategy in playing Turfway in the coming days is to pay little attention to the Polytrack surface itself, choosing to focus more on traditional handicapping factors.

Looking past bias, the track seemed to have a successful first night. Times were slower than normal, but the surface seemed safe. In watching the races and in checking the result charts, I did not see any ontrack breakdowns - though it is difficult to know of major injuries that might have been discovered back at the barns after the races.

In stands, little talk of medication

Sadly, opening night did not have a celebratory feel to it, not with entries short and some horsemen reluctant to participate because of concerns over stricter medication rules and withdrawal-time guidelines that took effect Wednesday.

Sitting on the track apron and in the simulcast center for a few hours, I did not hear one bettor comment on the new medication restrictions and how they might affect the night's racing.

At least among the horseplayers I know, medication rules are far down on their list of priorities. They care about hitting the last-race trifecta, not whether Bute and Banamine are on the approved list of medications.

Hot Storm offers value

Saturday's card at Turfway is a step in the right direction. After representatives from the Kentucky Racing Authority met with Churchill Downs-based horsemen Wednesday, Saturday's 10-race card swelled with entries, which were taken Thursday.

Twelve horses were entered for the Weekend Delight, a $75,000 stakes race going six furlongs. In a wide-open race, I'm taking Hot Storm, who has fared reasonably well against some top-level 3-year-old sprinters this year.

I like betting 3-year-old fillies against elders at this time of year, if for no other reason that many bettors are reluctant to play them. This boosts their value. She should be a price.