05/26/2004 12:00AM

Patience and experience matter on Taylor turf


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Grass racing recently returned to Woodbine, which usually means full fields and many intriguing betting opportunities.

The European-style E.P. Taylor turf course, which encircles the main track, is 1 1/2 miles in circumference. At 1,440 feet, it has the longest stretch of any track on the continent.

Races up to 1 1/8 miles are run around one turn, with the 1 1/8-mile races run out of a chute. Longer races - from 1 1/4 miles to 1 1/2 miles - are run around two turns, the first of which is a sharp, elbow-like bend that is unusual in North American racing.

The course can be divided into five lanes, with the inside lanes usually unused in the week leading up to a major event, like the Canadian International or Atto Mile.

An unusually dry Toronto summer in 2001 helped create a hard course, which often favored front-runners. In fact, speed is usually the dominant style on this course whenever drought-like conditions occur.

According to the 2004 edition of the publication "Winning at Woodbine," horses running in a stalking position (within four lengths of the front, but not on lead, at the key calls) fared best in turf sprints here last year. At six furlongs, stalkers won at a 48 percent clip, compared to 35 percent for front-runners and 17 percent for closers. At 6 1/2 furlongs, stalkers won 60 percent of the time, compared to 27 percent for front-runners and 13 percent for closers. Closers were more effective at seven furlongs, winning at a 38 percent rate, compared to 24 percent for front-runners and 38 percent for stalkers.

Front-runners were less effective in last year's turf routes, which were dominated by stalkers in races from 1 1/4 miles to 1 1/2 miles. Closers did their best in the shorter turf routes - from a mile to 1 1/8 miles. Front-runners did most of their damage in routes when the course was hard and fast.

Toronto Star handicapper Jennifer Morrison, who also writes for Daily Racing Form, believes jockeys must not make their moves too soon when riding the expansive Taylor turf.

"The stretch is considerably longer than the stretch of the dirt surface," Morrison said. "You need to save as much horse as you can for the stretch run. Time and time again, we've seen horses swoop up wide turning for home to take the lead, and then the closers come and get them. It's also important to save ground as well, which is a product of saving your horse."

Morrison said she looks for certain riders when handicapping the local grass events.

"There are some who excel at riding over this course, because they have a patient style," Morrison said. "They have nerves of steel, and will wait and wait in behind runners, before sending their horse through the smallest of openings at the eighth pole.

"I like to look at the stats to see which jockeys are winning the most turf races," she said. "Todd Kabel won the first five turf races at the meeting [this year]. Guys like Jono Jones, Constant Montpellier, Dino Luciani, and Robert Landry tend to know the nuances of this course, and they ride it well."

Pedigree handicappers have often been frustrated by the fact that many horses bred strictly for the dirt seem to handle the Taylor turf as well as horses with grass pedigrees. There are, however, some sires whose offspring win with regularity over the course. The list includes Smart Strike, Alphabet Soup, Sky Classic, Regal Classic, Lost Soldier, Langfuhr, and Wild Zone.

Ontario sires to keep an eye on when their offspring find the grass include Ascot Knight, Bold n' Flashy, Highland Ruckus, Bold Executive, Tethra, Compadre, Kiridashi, and Raj Waki.

Freshman sire Randy Regent, who also stands in Ontario, is a potential turf sire. A versatile son of Vice Regent, Randy Regent won three grass stakes, including the Play the King Handicap.