10/08/2004 11:00PM

In turf races, keep a close eye on the rail


SAN MATEO, Calif. - Bettors viewing races on the Bay Meadows turf course should take note of the rail setting as they make their last-minute handicapping adjustments.

Simply put, the farther out the rail, the more likely it is that speed horses will hold an advantage.

In turf route races through last Friday, runners showing at least stalking speed won 15 of 23 races with the rail at 25 feet. At the middle 12-foot setting, speed won 4 of 9. With the rail at its normal setting (0 feet), 5 of 16 winners showed speed.

In sprints, speedsters won 2 of 4 at 25 feet, 2 of 3 at 12 feet and went 0 for 1 at the normal setting.

The styles for runners finishing second and third are similar at the different settings.

Why do speed types seem to have an advantage with the rail farther out?

One of the primary reasons is the farther out the rail is placed, the sharper the turns become, almost like a bullring.

That provides an inherent advantage to horses that are part of the pace. They are able to control things and gain better position into turns.

The fuller the field, the bigger the advantage to horses up front because of potential traffic problems.

Centrifugal force tends to pull horses wider on turns, and the farther out the rail is set, the more distance horses have to run when wide.

The top turf rider on the circuit, Ron Warren Jr., seems particularly aware of that and is adept at cutting the corner on the far turn to save distance and gain running room when horses are fanned wide into the stretch.

While the rail has been set at 25 feet more often than the other two positions, particularly early in the week, the consensus is that the outside portion of course is generally firmer and in better shape than the inside portion of the the course that is used primarily on the weekends.

The trend on the turf course is simply that, a trend. As with main-track biases, seeing the rail at 25 feet is no guarantee that a speed horse will win and that an off-the-pace type will not.

But, figures over the entire meet indicate that the chances of speed types improve as the rail moves farther out.