05/29/2007 11:00PM

Speed dangerous on E.P. Taylor turf


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Grass racing recently returned to Woodbine, which means many full fields of intriguing and sometimes indecipherable races.

The European-style E.P. Taylor turf course, which encircles the main track, is 1 1/2 miles in circumference. Its stretch, at 1,440 feet, is the longest of any track on the continent.

The course can be divided into six lanes, with the innermost lane saved primarily for the days on which major stakes are staged, such as the Canadian International and Woodbine Mile.

A dry summer helps produce a hard course, which often favors front-runners and stalkers. In fact, speed is usually the dominant style on this course whenever dry conditions occur for any length of time.

Woodbine TV commentator Jeff Bratt believes that front-runners have an advantage when the portable rail is placed in lanes 5 or 6, especially when the course is very firm.

"It seems like horses on the front end under these conditions have a distinct advantage," said Bratt. "The long stretch doesn't appear to be as intimidating, and closers often get into trouble with a narrower stretch to come through."

Bratt believes that late runners have an advantage when lanes 1 or 2 are used, or when the course is on the soft side.

"Speed horses tend to tire themselves out on the giving going, and closers are able to have a big impact late in a race," Bratt said. "The fall is a great time to go longshot shopping, because speed horses who did well earlier in the year are overbet, and the closers who struggled with the firm going during the summer months now have the opportunity to run their best."

Canadian Hall of Fame trainer Roger Attfield also thinks speed is the preferred style when drought-like conditions occur in the summer.

"When it plays fast, and with that one turn being downhill, even a mile and a sixteenth sometimes seems like a sprint," Attfield said. "Sometimes you're at a big disadvantage when speed is holding up and you've got a horse coming from way out of it. You usually don't have much chance."

Attfield believes the horse-for-course angle is important on the Taylor turf.

"I've seen horses with good form come here from out of town, and sometimes they run [poorly]," he said. "Then, the next time you see them run in the United States somewhere, they win with a 98 [Beyer Speed Figure]."

Attfield cited Pellegrino, victorious in the Grade 1 Hollywood Turf Cup in 2004, as one of his runners who prefers an infield turf course.

"He's a big horse, and you would think he would like the big turns, but I think he prefers tighter turns," Attfield said. "His form on this turf course here isn't anything near like it was on an inner course."

Attfield is a proponent of the theory that the majority of grass runners like the Polytrack, which doesn't produce as much kickback as dirt tracks do.

"Most of my turf horses have liked the Polytrack and have run okay on it," Attfield said. "I don't think I've had a turf horse who didn't run to his form on it."

Handicappers who follow specific trainers on the grass at Woodbine might want to keep tabs on those yielding a positive return on investment.

The 2007 edition of Jim Mazur's "Winning at Woodbine" lists the turf records for all trainers over the past two meetings. Those based at Woodbine with a win average of at least 15 percent (minimum 10 starters) are Paul Attard, Sid Attard, Mac Benson, Eric Coatrieux, Catherine Day Phillips, Edward Freeman, Layne Giliforte, Red Johnson, Abraham Katryan, Radlie Loney, Norm McKnight, Paul Nielsen, Justin Nixon, John Ross, and Bob Tiller.

Benson already has won two turf races at the meeting. Both winners were first-time starters ridden by apprentice Michelle Rainford, who has three turf wins at the meet.

Pick seven hit for $203,473

One ticket-holder at a Toronto-area teletheater scooped the entire pick seven pool of $203,473.55 at Woodbine last Saturday.

The ticket cost $192. The winner used two horses in each race except for the sixth, where he or she used three runners, including the 15-1 winner, You Will Love Me. The ticket had favored Tee Paint and Sehgal in the final leg. Sehgal overtook 48-1 shot Frobisher Bay in the final strides to win at 6-1.

The pick seven had not been won this year until Saturday, the 30th day of the meeting.