10/10/2002 11:00PM

So far, speed rules at Keeneland


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Here is an unbiased look at how the Keeneland track bias trends have played out over the first five days of the 17-day fall meeting:

Friday, Oct. 4, was opening day. The main track was fast for the first two races, then was sloppy the rest of the day. The turf course was yielding.

Early and tactical speed were significant advantages when the track was fast, and also when it was sloppy. Five of the six winners on the main track were among the first three at the first call. Three led at that point, and the others won from second, third, and fifth. There was no "golden rail," as horses were able to rally wide. The turf course followed the expected trend of favoring off-the-pace runners, and closers. The winner of a turf sprint rallied from fourth, and the two turf routes were won by closers who were last of six, and seventh of 10.

The main track was rated good for the first three races on Saturday, then was fast for the rest of the card. The turf course was firm. Six of the seven races on the main track were won by horses who were first, second, or third at the first call, but only one was a front-runner. Three won from second, two from third, and one from fifth. A 5 1/2-furlong turf sprint was won from third, which was no surprise at that distance. The unexpected result was that Shuailaan Jennings, a 37-1 longshot, defied the usual turf route trend when he led throughout to win a 1 1/8-mile race. His $77 upset victory made more sense when it was viewed in the context of the pace of the race. Shuailaan Jennings was allowed to grab a clear lead while setting a slow 49.13 seconds and 1:14.24 pace, then kicked home faster than par to hold the late runners safe. Even so, horses who get good trips up front are still sometimes caught down the lane, so the turf course may have been more speed-favoring than usual.

The main track was fast, and the turf was firm all day on Sunday. You can never take a speed bias at Keeneland for granted, and this card showed why. There had been four front-running winners from 13 races on the dirt through the first two days, for a healthy 31 percent success rate. But the early leaders were shut out in the six main track races on this card, knocking their win percentage down to 21 percent. One horse won from second, three from third, one from fourth, and a deep closer was up in time from 10th. Things returned to normal on the turf where the three route races were all won from mid-pack or worse. They were fourth of eight, fifth of eight, and sixth of seven early.

Early speed rebounded nicely on Wednesday's fast main track. Four of the eight races on the dirt were won on the front end. None of them paid big prices, but they still yielded $21.60 in payoffs for a $2.70 ROI. Two other races were won from second, and another pair were won from the front half of the pack while fourth of 10, and fifth of 12. The lone race on the firm turf course was taken from sixth in a field of 10. Sightseek, who rallied from fifth, was much the best when she won the seven-furlong Raven Run stakes for Bailey and Frankel. She was 3 1/4 lengths clear at the finish, and the margin could have been much bigger if this 4-5 favorite had been asked for more.

The track was sloppy all day on Thursday, and the turf course was soft. Front-runners won three of seven races on dirt. Two races were won from second, another from fourth (after a disqualification), and a closer won from seventh in a field of eight. Although the card started out with a chalky $3 winner who led throughout, the others who won on the lead paid much better prices at $14.60, and $24.40. One turf route was won from the rear half of the pack, but the other was an exception to the rule when Big Stone Gap led all the way and paid $28.20. His fractions were not fast, but they made sense when the soft condition of the turf course is factored in, so he did not benefit from an easy trip.

The totals through Thursday showed 11 winners on the front end from 34 races for 32 percent wins. Even without a golden rail, bias-oriented handicappers have to like what they have seen so far at this meeting.