02/02/2007 1:00AM

Speed best in routes so far at Oaklawn

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Four race cards have been run at Oaklawn through Thursday, and a look at the results shows that a couple of interesting track bias trends have emerged.

First, let's take a look at the big picture. Overall, 6 of the 36 first-call leaders won, for 16 percent wins, which is only slightly better than half of the typical 28 percent that is normal for dirt races. The return on investment was a mild $1.55, which is about half of the usual $3.12.

Does this mean that horses with early speed are bad bets at Oaklawn? At many tracks the results of sprint and route races are similar enough to justify lumping them together, especially on days when there are only two or three races of one type or the other on a card. But so far, that has not been the case at Oaklawn, where there has been a significant difference between the sprint and route results. Only 3 of the 25 sprint races were won by the leader at the first call, which comes to 12 percent. This is low compared to the norm, but actually a bit better than what would be expected from random luck on the assumption that the average field at Oaklawn contains more than eight horses, who would each have a 12.5 percent chance of winning. Their ROI was $1.12.

There were only 11 route races, but the early leader won 3 of them, 27 percent, with a $2.54 ROI. Perhaps, as the sample size of races gets bigger the sprint numbers for speed horses will improve and the route numbers will decline, but for now I will be looking for early speed in route races at Oaklawn.

Even with speed horses in sprint races showing losses, if you can find a front-running sprinter who figures to grab a clear lead through the opening quarter-mile, profits can still be made. Eleven of the first-call leaders in sprints owned a lead of one length or larger at that point. Two of them won, for an 18 percent success rate, with a $2.32 ROI. Subtract them from the overall sprint sample and the horses who led early by three-quarters of a length or less really struggled. Only 1 of 14 prevailed, a prohibitive favorite who paid just $2.60. The ROI on that group was a dismal $0.18. If I see a heavily bet favorite in a sprint race who seems likely to have to duel, I will try to beat him with a contender who can track him from a couple of lengths off the pace.

There are four route races at Oaklawn on Sunday's card. None of the horses with early speed in those races stands out as much as I would like. But North Wynnd, who is running in the first race, is still worth a bet. He showed enough early speed in his recent races at Delta, Remington, and Churchill to give him an edge on paper as he drops in class from $15,000 N3L to $7,500 N3L. And he is well drawn in post 2 with a deep closer drawn inside of him on the rail. A couple of other horses in the race, Troy's Honor and Javier, have enough speed to bother North Wynnd early if they are pushed hard enough to do so, but they would probably be sacrificing their best chances of winning the race if they are ridden that way.