09/23/2003 11:00PM

Run-ups key to early fractions


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Scrutinizing the internal fractions of races in order to help evaluate horses' performances should be part of every handicapper's routine, and knowing the nuances of different tracks is a must when doing such analysis.

A prime example of deceptively fast early fractions occurs in mile and 70-yard races on Woodbine's main track. For the most part, the only races written here at that distance are for 2-year-olds who are going long for the first time, usually around this time of year. All one-mile races taken off the grass are run at a mile and 70 yards as well.

Last Saturday's card had an example of each of the above. The sixth race, a mile and 70-yard maiden special for 2-year-olds, had fractions of 23 and 47.60 seconds. A logical assumption would have been that the eighth race, the 1 1/16-mile Mazarine Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, would be run at least as quickly early, but Dream About reeled off fractions of just 23.80 and 48.20 in her front-running triumph.

In the fifth race, I Thee Wed pressed fractions of 23 and 47.60 before going on to a comfortable victory in a maiden special originally scheduled for a mile on the grass. More talented allowance runners, traveling 1 1/16 miles in the seventh, set fractions of 23.20 and 47.

Woodbine's teletimer operator, Dan Megens, said there's an extended run to where the first-quarter fraction begins in mile and 70-yard races, which he says are timed by two clocks.

"One clock times from the 70-yard pole all the way around," Megens explained. "The other clock times from the mile or finish pole around to the three-quarter pole, then to the half pole, then to the quarter pole, and then back to the finish.

"In most races, there's about a 60-foot run from the gate to the start pole, but there's another 70 yards before the actual quarter fraction begins [in races at a mile and 70 yards]. The horses are at full speed by the time they hit the place where the quarter fraction starts."

Megens said the first quarter is the most misleading in mile and 70-yard races.

"The first quarter is probably as much as a full second faster than usual," Megens said. "Depending on the caliber of horse, lots of times they'll go the first quarter in 22.80 or 23, but those same horses would get there in 23.60 or 23.80 going a mile and a sixteenth. And you get more half-mile fractions in under 48 going a mile and 70 yards than you do with the same caliber of horses at a mile and a sixteenth."

The way horses are ridden from the gate can also influences the quarter-mile split in routes.

"Going a mile and 70 yards, some [jockeys] like to rush more into the [first] turn, to try and get a little better position," Megens said. "Horses leaving from the outside who want to get near the lead are sometimes ridden a little harder going a mile and 70, as opposed to at a mile and a sixteenth. That can also make the fractions a little faster."

Megens said a strong east or west wind will often influence the internal fractions in sprints at Woodbine.

"If you get a really strong tailwind going six or seven furlongs, sometimes you'll get extraordinarily fast quarters - under 22 seconds - consistently, throughout a whole card," Megens said. "Once they hit the headwind in the stretch, they'll begin to tire. If the wind is going the other way, [the fractions] will be slower, and the horses always seem to have a little more run coming home, because there's less resistance."