04/01/2009 11:00PM

Outside the place to be on Polytrack


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - After 2 1/2 years of Polytrack racing at Woodbine, what have we learned?

* A premature move rarely translates into a victory.

* No matter how slow the pace is going long, you can still win by rallying from the back of the pack.

* The outside is usually the place to be.

The latter notion is worth pondering in detail. The Polytrack doesn't always offer less-glib going along the inside. However, in large fields, on a surface with minimal kickback, horses tend to race in a more tightly bunched pack than on dirt. When horses are running close together, it is much easier to rally outside than along the inside, and when you take into account that the majority of horses prefer the outside over the inside, the illusion of an outside bias is created.

Irwin Driedger, Woodbine's director of Thoroughbred racing surfaces, said he believes the abundance of workers on the Polytrack after rainy weather last year helped to create an outside bias.

"When you have too many horses working, they tend to dig it up in one little spot," Driedger said. "They all work in the same five- to six-foot spot. I tried to put it back, but sometimes it's difficult to do. Last year, because we had a rainy season, I think we saw a little more of that than the year before."

Polytrack does well under wet conditions, but Driedger said he isn't concerned with the possibility of a dry summer.

"The track loves the heat," Driedger said. "I can do less to it when it's dry and warm. I have to do more when it's wet and cold. Some people say that they like the track when it's wet. All that really does is tighten it up and make it faster."

Brian Lynch, who trains the bulk of the Stronach Stable runners in Ontario, said he believes the Polytrack is relatively neutral in terms of positional bias.

"I think it's a pretty fair track," Lynch said. "Front-running horses can win by shaking loose, or after being in the first tier. And horses can come from behind."

According to Jim Mazur's handicapping publication, "Winning at Woodbine 2009," stalkers have been dominant in sprints since Polytrack racing commenced, scoring at a 44 percent clip. Front-runners won at a 31 percent rate, and closers prevailed at a 25 percent clip.

In Polytrack routes, front-runners posted a 21 percent win average; stalkers won at a 41 percent clip, and closers found the mark at a 37 percent rate.

* Driedger said he began using a cultivator late last fall to decompact the Polytrack in order to save time. A power harrow is also used for that purpose.

"When it's cold out, I use [the cultivator] a fair bit," he said. "It's a piece of farm equipment that's similar to a power harrow, but only it's much quicker. The power harrow does a nice job, but it's time consuming."

* The Ontario Racing Commission recently approved new directives that allow triactors and superfectas on smaller fields.

For triactor wagering, the required number of betting interests has been reduced from six to five. For superfectas, the required number of betting interests has been reduced from eight to seven for all races other than stakes, which remain at seven.