10/13/2005 11:00PM

Polytrack closers good bets


LEXINGTON, Ky. - As the Turfway Park meet was winding down, many handicappers wondered how the form from races on the brand new Polytrack synthetic all-weather surface would hold up at Keeneland. The early returns are now in, with 122 horses who last raced on the Polytrack having run at Keeneland through Thursday.

Before we dive into those numbers, one important fact should be mentioned that will place them in their proper perspective. Since the overall class of racing is not as high at Turfway as it is at Keeneland, many of these horses were longshots. But some trends did become apparent, and bettors who understand them can use them to their advantage during the rest of the Keeneland meet, and at any other track where Turfway horses make their next start.

Overall, 11 of the 122 horses who last raced on the Turfway Polytrack won, a modest 9 percent average. But the average win payoff was $27.25, which made win bets profitable with a $2.45 return on investment. Win, place, and show bets combined yielded a $2.15 ROI.

Early speed was an advantage on the Polytrack, but not a strong one. With that in mind, my guess was that the move to a more speed-favoring Keeneland main track would give these horses who had shown early and tactical speed a boost. But that did not turn out to be the case. Of the 60 runners who had shown early or tactical speed on the Polytrack, five won, for a 6 percent success rate that was lower than the overall trend. Their ROI was lower than the overall $2.45 at $1.80 to win. Win, place, and show bets on the early and tactical speed horses returned $1.83.

The big surprise is that horses who were off-the-pace types or closers were actually better bets over the speed-favoring Keeneland main track (the study also included five horses who switched to the Keeneland turf course, but they did not make much of an impact on the overall results). That group of 62 runners won 6 of 62 starts, 9 percent, with a generous $3.09 ROI. The average win price was $31.93, with a healthy boost from the $90.40 win payoff on Gold Pleasure on Thursday. If you are tempted to throw out that home run payoff, to be fair, you would also have to throw out the many losses by other longshot closers, so that big payoff should not be summarily dismissed. Win, place, and show bets on this group returned $2.46.

The question is why the closers ran so well at Keeneland despite the fact that the main track has favored early and tactical speed more often than not. Trainer Eric Reed is stabled at Keeneland throughout the year. I asked him about his win with State of Shock, a closer who won the first race on opening day at Keeneland and whose previous start was on the Turfway Polytrack. Reed said the Polytrack material that the leaders kicked back at the off-the-pace runners was a factor.

"Some of my horses who tried to rally at Turfway didn't mind the spray, or had trips that reduced the amount of spray that hit them," Reed said. "But some of them didn't want to run through it. State of Shock didn't seem to want to rally into the spray at Turfway, but didn't mind the dirt that was kicked back at him when he rallied to win at Keeneland on opening day."

If Reed's observation is correct, it would explain how closers who did not run their best race at Turfway were able to run better races while battling a speed bias at Keeneland. And it provides an interesting betting angle for bettors who are brave enough to bet on these longshots. Pay particular attention to the ones who make their next start at a track that is less speed-favoring than Keeneland.