Updated on 09/18/2011 1:35AM

Speed, inside position are crucial


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Trip handicapping has superseded most other handicapping methods at Woodbine, ever since racing was switched from the main track to the inner track, which is normally used for harness racing, on July 8.

Woodbine's main track is being converted into Polytrack, and dirt racing is being conducted on the seven-furlong inner track until the latter part of August. Forward positioning and saving ground have become important factors when going around the tight-turned inner track.

Jockey Jim McAleney won four races over a sloppy inner track last Saturday. Two of those victories were on closers, but he said those wins were an aberration, and that horses with speed usually have an advantage over the surface.

"The rail was good, and I managed to get there a lot," McAleney said. "I won a few races from well off the pace, which is something horses haven't been able to do. I left those horses alone to allow them to run their own race, and they overcame the bias.

"You have to be contentious the early part of the race, and that's what I would look for - a horse who has a bit of speed and is able to carry it. What I've been trying to do lately is get my horses forwardly placed, comfortably. I also think the key is to have them in a good position on the second turn - find a way to be within a few lengths of the lead by the time you get to the second turn."

According to McAleney, saving ground is imperative on the inner track. He said a prime example was when he rode the 2005 Canadian champion sprinter, Judiths Wild Rush, in last Saturday's Bold Venture Stakes. Running far off the rail, Judiths Wild Rush tracked front-running Lakeville Rush in the 7 1/2-furlong race and came up a length short of Are You Serious, who had a dream run near the rail on the far turn.

"I was on the best horse, but we got hung wide on both turns," McAleney recalled. "I just couldn't get him back off [Lakeville Rush] - I would have had to have jumped his heels to get to the inside. We were five wide on the second turn, and [Are You Serious] made a big move along the inside to get a three-length jump on me, which was the winning move. I was able to get two lengths back, but not all three."

Some believe that medium- or small-sized runners are more likely to handle the tight turns than large horses. McAleney said tall, leggy horses have the biggest disadvantage. "A big, gangly horse can have trouble in any situation," he said.

The horse-for-course theory could be a hot angle during the last month on the inner track. Middle Bay became the first two-time winner over the inner track last Friday, when he toyed with his opposition in a five-furlong sprint for $10,000 claimers.

Middle Bay, a need-the-lead type in longer sprints, stalked the pace en route to a two-length score in his first inner track win. Strangely, many need-the-lead sprinters are able to successfully come from off the pace in shorter dashes of five furlongs or less.

Seal of Moulin also fits the bill. She failed to pass a horse in six starts prior to her July 21 victory in a five-furlong Ontario-sired allowance, in which she came from mid-pack to prevail. She also appears to be an inner-track expert, since her only other outing over that oval was a prominent third-place finish.

In addition to McAleney, jockeys who have negotiated the inner track particularly well include apprentice Justin Stein, Jerry Baird, Corey Fraser, David Clark, and Eurico Rosa da Silva.