07/27/2005 11:00PM

Posts at Del Mar: The inside is out

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DEL MAR, Calif. - It took only one week of racing to be reminded of the significance of trips and post positions at Del Mar.

"You don't want to be inside sprinting, for sure; it's death," trainer Mike Machoswky said.

"If you draw the one [post] in a sprint, you should almost scratch," trainer John Sadler said.

"I hate the rail," trainer Jeff Mullins said. "I don't care if you're going half a mile, or a mile and a half. I just hate it."

Seven days into the 2005 Del Mar meet, there is reason for disdain. Horses breaking on the rail won three of the first 35 dirt sprints (two at odds-on, one second choice); four losing favorites could use the inside post as a legitimate excuse, including the Sadler-trained Rojo Blanco. He drew the rail July 23 in race 5. Favored at 3.10-1, the post dictated strategy.

"You know you have to go [from the rail]," Sadler said. "They went

[21.21 and 43.79] in a nonwinners-of-one, in the worst part of the going. It's definitely heavier on the inside." Rojo Blanco's third-place finish was among the best performances opening week. The winner was longshot Remo, who rallied wide from the back of the pack.

Rojo Blanco was not the only front-running favorite to be compromised by a pace battle and/or trip after breaking from the rail. Kalookan Lessie (0.60-1) lost race 7 on July 22; Miranda Stands (2.30-1) lost race 7 July 23; and Fallfree (1.90-1) lost race 1 on July 27.

In each case, there were extenuating reasons for defeat beyond inside post. But in each case, a problematic trip resulted from the post. It was the main reason for defeat. While some horses are able to shake loose and be long gone, others that engage in a pace duel, while pinned inside, turn to toast and set it up for the closers.

"You have to take into consideration the pace of the race," jockey Patrick Valenzuela said. "If you're going fast and you're on the rail, you're going to stop, so it looks like the outside is running a lot better."

When it happens more than once, a crumbling pace scenario can create the false appearance of a rally-wide bias.

The biggest change opening week at Del Mar is the frequency of positional change, relative to speed-friendly Hollywood Park. In sprints at Del Mar, closers have a fair shot rallying wide, or scraping paint through the turn. Either way, they require a contested pace to set up their kick.

"[At Del Mar] you can go a little bit wider, and still finish up strong," Valenzuela said. "I don't think you can judge the track; I think you have judge the individual horse. Maybe at Hollywood Park the rail was a little better place to be. But this track [Del Mar] so far has been a fair track. I think you can run from the inside or the outside."

Given their choice of post, most horsemen would take the outside. Mullins's first four winners included three rallying from behind; his lone front-running winner (Honor Chick on July 24) simply ran away from her rivals.

"I would always rather be middle to outside - anywhere," Mullins said. "You don't have to rush your horse, you don't have to worry about getting trapped. [From the outside] you can just kind of do whatever from out there."

Through Wednesday at Del Mar, sprinters breaking from a post in the outside half of the field have won twice as many races (24 to 11) as horses breaking from a post in the inside half of the field.

Jon Court rode sprint winners July 23 and 24 that broke from posts 10 and 9, respectively. Furthermore, both lost ground through the turn - Boston Heat dueled three wide in

race 1 on July 23; Proposed raced three and four wide in race 7 on July 24.

Nonetheless, Court is reluctant to label a bias on the main track. "I don't think so - I only noticed it [Monday, July 25]," he said. "On the rail, they flounder a little bit, then you start coming off and it gets tighter, it gets faster."

The main-track profile is reason enough for Del Mar horseplayers to reconsider backing a short price breaking from an inside post in a one-turn race. Similarly, it is reason to pay closer attention to a higher-odds runner breaking from an advantageous outside post.

Turf times deceptively fast

As for the new Del Mar turf course, the fast times must be taken with a dose of skepticism. A $50,000 claiming horse, Coronado's Pride, established a course record for 1 1/16 miles on Wednesday when he led gate to wire and stopped the clock in 1:39.76. The time lowered the previous record by 0.08 second.

The previous record was set Aug. 27, 2003, in a nonwinners-of-one other-than allowance race won by Allover.

The temporary rails were to be moved Friday, from a zero setting to a seven-foot setting. In past years at Del Mar, repositioning of the rails has led to a shift in course profile. But while the course has seemed to favor speed, the results reveal it has played fair. Four of five races at one mile were won by stalkers; one race was won wire to wire.

The seven races at 1 1/16 miles were won by three stalkers, one presser, and three successive wire-to-wire winners.