07/17/2007 11:00PM

Polytrack angles sharpening up


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - I walked into Woodbine recently with a handicapper who was looking forward to betting the afternoon's simulcast races.

"I haven't been playing Woodbine," he told me. "I've got the Polytrack blues."

He isn't the only one. It will likely take years to discover all the nuances of handicapping Polytrack races at Woodbine, and not all horseplayers have the patience or the bankroll to a make it through the difficult transition period. Here are some new trends at the current meeting.

o The early form cycle of some runners appears to be different than in the past. For instance, many horses bounce or regress in their second start off a winter layoff if they had run a big race first time back. However, several stakes performers have bounced after kicking off their campaign with two strong efforts.

Dancer's Bajan earned a career-high 92 Beyer Speed Figure when second while coming off the sidelines in the Woodstock Stakes, then followed with a third-place finish after a five-wide trip in the Queenston Stakes. Next time out in the Plate Trial Stakes, he was a non-threatening sixth, but he subsequently rebounded by finishing a close second in the Achievement Stakes.

Jiggs Coz won back-to-back stakes, the Queenston and the Plate Trial, when launching his campaign. Those powerful performances made him the favorite for the $1 million Queen's Plate on June 24, in which he finished a flat third.

o In early May, four horses won going 1 1/16 miles in their first start of the year - Bold Finish, Beyond Ascot, Madam Executive, and Aknighttoremember.

In the past, it was rare to see local trainers run their horses around two turns following a long layoff, and it was even rarer when they won. However, the Polytrack, which was installed last summer, has led to improved training conditions during inclement weather, and has enabled horsemen to have their horses fitter earlier.

Trainer Steve Attard sent out Saskawea to win the seven-furlong Fury Stakes following a five-month layoff May 6.

"This spring, it was easier to train because of the Polytrack," said Attard. "Even though it wasn't in great condition, we didn't miss many days of training. It made a huge difference."

Handicappers who noticed the trend should have given serious consideration to Gone Trajectory when he returned from a seven-month absence in a 1 1/16-mile allowance for Ontario-sired runners June 29. He won, paying a generous $10.10, despite having finished fourth to Dancer's Bajan in his previous start in the Kingarvie Stakes.

Like the four runners mentioned above, Gone Trajectory raced into last December and probably didn't lose a significant amount of fitness over the winter.

o One school of thought is that a horse might need a race over the Polytrack if that horse is based elsewhere, but that doesn't seem to pertain to 2-year-olds going short.

The Fort Erie-based juveniles Better Than Bitter and Explosive Greek each won a maiden race at a big price here recently, despite having no works or a races over the Polytrack. It was the first start for Better Than Bitter, while Explosive Greek was exiting a third-place finish in his debut on the dirt at the Fort.

o Outside post positions were a liability last year on the Polytrack, which has only a three degree banking on the turns. Outside posts have also been unproductive this year.

Last year, Post 14 had 1 winner from 20 starters in sprints and was 0 for 8 in routes. In routes, posts 8-14 were a combined 35 for 450 (7.7 percent winners on average per post), while posts 1-7 were a combined 182 for 1,468 (12.3 percent percent winners on average per post).

This meet, through Sunday, post 14 was 1 for 22 in the sprints. In routes, posts 12-14 were a combined 0 for 25, and posts 10-14 were a combined 3 for 78.