11/25/2005 12:00AM

Polytrack to get wet and cold test


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Racing returns to Turfway and its synthetic Polytrack racing surface on Sunday, so this is a good time to recall the track bias tendencies we saw when it was first introduced there in September.

The first thing you should know is that it is a good idea to not make any track bias assumptions during the first week of racing. It will take at least that long for the track to settle into a predictable pattern.

Prior to the September meet, some observers guessed that the Polytrack would be completely free of any bias. Others, who noted how strongly early speed is favored on most dirt tracks speculated that the Polytrack surface was unlikely to be much different. Based on the results in September, both schools of thought were partly right. The Polytrack surface was more fair to all running styles than most dirt tracks, but horses with early and tactical speed still had a moderate advantage.

The most interesting thing about the Polytrack is that a surprisingly high number of horses who were considered to be turf specialists ran well on the new surface, including some who had run poorly on the dirt in their previous ventures off the grass. That is a very important handicapping factor, since many of the horses were not respected much by bettors. The attractive win payoffs and large exotic payoffs should continue until casual observers catch on.

Beyond the benefits for bettors, the fact that turf runners have adapted so well to the Polytrack bodes well for owners and trainers who didn't have an easy time finding good spots to run those horses in previous years, especially those who usually compete at lower class levels.

The real test for the Polytrack surface will be to see how it plays when it is very cold and wet. There were serious problems with Turfway's old main track under cold and wet conditions, which led to many race cards being canceled during the winter. The Polytrack allows water to sink through the surface and drain easily, so it is expected to hold up much better and to be much safer than the old track was during winter. The Polytrack material has met expectations in tests at temperatures as low as 7 degrees, so there is reason for optimism. If the surface does as well as expected, Turfway should enjoy a much-improved race meet. The timing is perfect for this improvement because a number of stables that would normally have raced at Fair Grounds have chosen to stay in Kentucky.

Two Remington Park plays

If you are looking for something out of the ordinary to do on Monday, you might want to take a look at the closing day race card at Remington Park. Racing secretary Michael Shamburg decided to have some fun by changing things up while writing the conditions for a couple of the races. The distances for two of the races will be unique for that track.

The fifth race is a handicap limited to horses that have started for a claiming price in 2004 or 2005. What makes it special is the 1 13/16- mile distance (14 1/2 furlongs) on the turf. Previously, 1 3/8 miles was the longest turf race carded there. Tactical speed figures to be an advantage with a slow pace likely. I will be making selections for that race card in the Daily Racing Form consensus box, and I will be giving the edge to Thirteen Colonies in what shapes up as a very competitive betting race.

The sixth race is uncharacteristically short for dirt races at Remington. It is a three-furlong starter allowance for 3-year-olds and up that have started for a claiming price of $12,500 or less in 2005. Post position will not be important, as the race is run from a chute, down the stretch. The difference between this race and other three-furlong races you might have seen is that the other races are usually populated with 2-year-olds who are first-time starters. You are only guessing at what their running style will be. In this race, the horses are all experienced runners who have demonstrated what their preferred running style is. If you like early speed in longer sprint races, you have to love it here. I like the chances of Eclat, and I'lldrinktothat, who both have the right running style. The edge goes to Eclat on class, as he just finished a close second in a $5,000 starter allowance race at Remington.