01/08/2013 3:03PM

Santa Anita: Key Decision, Akkadian figure prominently despite turf 'bias'

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Shigeki Kikkawa
Hoorayforhollywood has the the highest recent speed figures in Thursday's feature.

ARCADIA, Calif. – The Santa Anita turf course gets narrow Thursday, when the temporary rails are moved to the outermost 30-foot setting for the first time at the meet.

Many bettors will consider the rail position a key factor in the race-7 feature, a one-mile allowance with seven good horses, including four with a come-from-behind style – 2012 Grade 1 winner Willyconker, Akkadian, Make Music for Me and Clubhouse Ride.

The four closers would be compromised if an oft-repeated maxim were true – speed holds and closers struggle with turf rails out at 30 feet. If that cliché were accurate, bettors could zero in Thursday on front-runners Hoorayforhollywood, Red Sun, and Key Decision.

It is not that simple. In fact, history offers no evidence a 30-foot rail setting favors speed at a mile on turf. During last winter’s 2011-12 meet, 12 turf races were run at one mile with the rails at 30 feet. Two races were won by the pacesetter, while six were won by a horse still positioned three or more lengths behind at the quarter pole.

Advantage: late speed.

A year earlier, during the 2010-11 winter meet, seven turf races at one mile were run with the rails at 30. Two were won by the pacesetter, two were won by a horse three or more lengths behind at the quarter pole. No significant bias then, or now.

This winter, the turf rails have been positioned at zero, eight, and 15 feet. Horses with tactical speed perhaps have had a slight edge, though 12 turf races at one mile produced just one wire-to-wire winner. Perhaps handicappers should focus on the horse, rather than the course.

All seven entrants in the $65,000 Thursday allowance have a chance.

“It’s a tough race,” Key Decision’s trainer, A.C. Avila, said. “But he’s a tough horse.”

Key Decision certainly is fitter than he was Dec. 8, when he finished fourth in his first start in four months. That day, Avila ran a short horse. “He got tired,” the trainer said. “After that, I had the chance to put more good workouts in him. He’s fit now.”

But is he good enough? Key Decision was Group 1-placed in Argentina, won a second-level allowance in summer at Betfair Hollywood Park, and has had a year to acclimate to North America. This year should be the 5-year-old’s best season. Edwin Maldonado rides Key Decision, who can set the pace or sit behind Hoorayforhollywood and Red Sun.

Akkadian is the late threat under Garrett Gomez. If the gelding’s most recent start can be discounted, he belongs. Runner-up by a neck two back vs. similar, Akkadian finished fifth by more than 13 lengths in his most recent start, the Dec. 8 race Key Decision exits.

Julio Canani trains Akkadian. What happened? “It rained,” Canani said.

“I ran three horses that day, and they all finished nowhere.”

Akkadian was racing on a course listed good, and was off the board as the race-5 second choice. Rock Off in race 8 and Say Ow in race 10 were other Canani trainees who finished nowhere as second favorites in turf races that day.

Hoorayforhollywood enters the Thursday allowance with the highest recent speed figures. A Storm Cat 5-year-old, he will set or press the pace with Red Sun. Willyconker is rounding into form in his third start back from a layoff. He won the Grade 1 Frank Kilroe Mile at Santa Anita last winter.