05/15/2013 4:42PM

Pimlico: Track bias a key to cashing on Preakness Day


Whether they play Pimlico regularly or not, many horseplayers across the country will, for better or worse, make their biggest plays of the weekend on races there Friday and Saturday. Of course, the bigger races, including Friday's Black-Eyed Susan Stakes and Saturday's Preakness, will have fields comprising largely shippers, but most of the races on the undercard will consist of local runners. And to get an edge in those races it helps to have an understanding of recent track trends.

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A very dull rail strongly influenced the outcome of races on the main track at Pimlico for a period of about two weeks recently, starting on Thursday, April 25, and running through Sunday, May 5. That period encompasses eight cards, and during that time there were 52 races run on the dirt.

Through the first week, from the 25th through the 28th, there was not a single winner who was on the rail for the duration of the race, outside of a 4 ½-furlong dash for 2-year-olds. The second week of the bias, from May 2nd through the 5th, there were a total of three winners who bucked the trend, racing along the inside for the majority of their trips. But all three of those winners were favored. In fact, two of those runners were odds-on favorites, including Grand Mast at 3-10. When racing resumed last week, on Thursday, May 9, the bias seemed to have disappeared, and there was no apparent edge to any running style or on any part of the track through last weekend.

Granted, part of the reason for the preponderance of wide winners during the time the bias was in effect was because jockeys recognized the bias and made sure to avoid the inside whenever possible, but the fact remains that those horses caught along the rail for any considerable length of time were at a real disadvantage.

The turf course has played fairly for the majority of the meet, whether in sprints or routes. There have been some exceptions, however, including in the early part of the meet, when closers seemed to hold the edge in sprints on the grass.

On two days in particular - April 11 and April 14 - speed-types were at a distinct disadvantage. According to handicapper Brad Thomas, an astute tracker of biases, this is a common occurrence in the spring at Pimlico. According to Thomas, as the temperatures rise, the turf course gets more firm and becomes fairer to all running styles.

Handicappers this weekend might also want to track horses coming out of grass races on April 27 and 28, when those on the rail held the edge on turf course at Pimlico. The bias also served to aid those horses on the lead, as the pacesetters who were on the inside were on the best part of the course. But any runner on the fence, even off the pace, held an advantage. Those runners who were off the inside and ran subpar races can certainly be forgiven.

The long-range weather forecast, according to Accuweather.com, calls for a 35 percent chance of rain on Saturday. Pimlico, like most American dirt tracks, tends to favor speed when the track is not fast. But sloppy conditions many times lead to an outside speed bias, where front-runners off the rail hold the advantage. That was certainly the case on April 12, the last time the entire card at Pimlico was run over a sloppy strip. It can be difficult to figure which runners will get that type of trip, but if the rains do come bettors could benefit from trying to plot the race flow and anticipate which horses will be racing with any potential bias.

As far as the Preakness is concerned, Orb is obviously not going to mind some rain, as he clearly relished the off going at Churchill Downs. His running style, however, could be an issue if the track is sloppy and outside speed horses do in fact have an edge, since he clearly will be well off the pace again. A horse like Oxbow, who ran decently in the Kentucky Derby, could be in an ideal spot, as he has some tactical speed and should be right off expected pacesetters Goldencents and Titletown Five. How the earlier races are run will give handicappers a much better idea of how the track is playing, but it's something to keep in mind if the second leg of the Triple Crown is as wet as the first.