08/21/2007 11:00PM

When rain hits Polytrack, speed gets a boost


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Perhaps the best way to judge the strength of a bias is by observing how the horses who ran with and against the perceived bias performed in their subsequent races. Those who benefited from the way the track played usually aren't as effective when they run back, and the horses who tried to buck the bias often improve if they run back on a fairer track.

For example, the June 24 card at Woodbine, which featured the $1 million Queen's Plate, was dominated by runners with speed. Pacemakers and stalkers won the majority of the Polytrack races, including the Queen's Plate itself.

Collectively, however, the closers on Plate Day have not prospered in their subsequent starts, and the front-runners on the card have fared better than anticipated, suggesting that the bias wasn't nearly as powerful as initially thought.

During the Aug. 12 program, rainfall helped to create a noticeable speed bias in the six Polytrack sprints on the card. Front-runners won the first five sprints, and a stalking Nancy's Calling took the finale at 11-1. The bias seemed obvious after the first race, a $62,500 claimer at six furlongs for 3-year-olds, in which Trigone set sizzling fractions on a clear lead en route to an easy score, in a near track-record time of 1:09.55.

Irwin Driedger, Woodbine's director of Thoroughbred racing surfaces, said speed horses have a license to be dominant during rainfall, which tightens up the track.

"When it's hot out, the wax in the track gets soft," Driedger explained. "Rain is always cool, and when it hits the track, it tightens up the wax a little and makes it firmer. Even after the sun goes down, the wax tightens up a little bit. They tend to run a little quicker than when it's warm out."

Driedger said he experimented with watering the track in the spring, to no avail.

"I tried [watering it] once this spring, when it was really loose, but it didn't help things," Driedger said. "In fact, it created more of a speed bias. With regards to water, it's a bottomless track. It's not like a dirt track, where you can put water on it during the night to get it wet. The water won't stay on this track, unless you have some kind of heavy-duty watering system."

Jockey David Clark, who guided longshot Stuck in Traffic to a front-running victory in the Aug. 12 Vandal Stakes, concurred with Driedger's views about a wet Polytrack.

"Rain seems to really tighten this track down, and speed seems to carry the wetter it gets," said Clark.

The Polytrack has generally played fair this summer, but outside runners appeared to have an advantage on June 30, July 7-8, July 29, and Aug. 18.

Driedger acknowledged that a bias occasionally appears for no particular reason. He also said the speed of the track hasn't changed dramatically from one card to the next.

"It's a fast track, but it's not hard," said Driedger. "Some days, there's more come-from-behind [winners], and other days, it's more front-end. It never really slows up that much, even after I decompact it."

Outside post positions have continued to be a liability in routes on the Polytrack. Through last Sunday at the meeting, posts 12-14 were a combined 0 for 34, and posts 10-14 were a combined 3 for 104.

No horse has won from post 14 going around two turns since racing commenced here on the Polytrack last Aug. 30.

It should be noted that the post-position statistics in the Woodbine track program combine the Polytrack and turf races, and are not to be confused with the Daily Racing Form stats.