03/13/2014 4:48PM

Fair Grounds handicapping roundup: Week of March 15

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Speed bias has vanished

Well, that was interesting, and kind of historic.

The long six-day race week occasioned by Tuesday’s special Mardi Gras card produced one of the strongest front-end biases longtime Fair Grounds observers can recall. It also pulled into sharper focus the generally speed-favoring nature of the main track since Jan. 1, a big-picture perspective that can get lost in the noise of small-picture results.

But after six days of being hit over the head with front-end main-track winners – especially on the Saturday, March 8 and Sunday, March 9 cards – the bias appears to have vanished into thin air this week. Speed horses did little good on Wednesday, March 12, and if anything, outside paths on dirt were preferred during the early races of Thursday, March 13.

In other words, this is not necessarily news you can use. But for any doubters, here are the bare stats. There were 46 dirt races run during the six cards: front-runners won 28 of them, pace-pressers won 8, stalkers 9, and true closers – a grand total of 1. (That was Cozze Up Lady, who is very much on the most recent edition of Fair Grounds horses to watch as the only true bias-bucking winner all week.)

Speed was even more effective in sprints than routes: Front-runners won 16 of the 23 one-turn dirt races during the week, pressers 4, stalkers 2, and closers 1. There were 12 speed winners in two-turn races, and four pace-pressing winners, but stalkers did much better in routes than sprints, winning six of them.

The track played much faster fractionally, with sharp splits in both sprints and routes, but final times, while quick, were slower than splits times.
The bias went beyond mere winners: Watching races, the same shape developed again and again, with pressers futilely chasing a winning front-runner, and the fanned-wide back-of-the-packers appearing to be running in deep sand. The whole thing culminated with the 8th race Sunday, when 75-1 shot Jalapeno Lena led all the way and won by almost four lengths; despite her terrible form, it didn’t even feel like a major upset.

So the bias is gone as of this writing. The generally speed-favoring nature of the surface has ebbed and flowed for a couple months now, and I would guess there is a greater chance than not that we will see it again before the meet ends March 29.

Broberg rising

Trainer Karl Broberg has run a Fair Grounds string since the 2010–2011 meet, and it’s been nothing like the win machines he has run at lesser venues like Delta Downs and Evangeline Downs. But Broberg is running more and winning more – and doing more particularly Brobergian things – this meet than in any of his previous seasons.

His 77 starters through the March 9 card already are his most ever at Fair Grounds, as are the 16 wins this season. And after going just 6 for 44 during December and January, Broberg has won with 9 of his last 29 Fair Grounds starters.

“It’s not a meet we gear for – our goal is to be the king of Evangeline and Delta – but I feel good about where things are headed,” Broberg said.

Broberg won the Duncan Kenner on March 8 with crack sprinter Heitai, but his is a claiming outfit. And when I talk about “Brobergian things,” I mean his willingness to make moves outside the mainstream. Take Joe Hollywood. Broberg, who is the principal owner in End Zone Athletics, claimed Joe Hollywood from Steve Asmussen for $40,000 on March 4. Five days later Joe Hollywood was wheeled back into action, running back for the $40,000 tag and winning a turf sprint, the first grass win of his career.

“It’s one of my favorite moves,” Broberg said of the quick turnaround. “You’ve got to have the right horse, the right situation, but I’m never averse to wheeling a horse back if it makes sense.”

Until recently, it’s made sense for handicappers to only give Broberg’s Fair Grounds runners a passing glance. That’s no longer the case.