February 2, 2001

Oaklawn Opens
The venerable track in Hot Springs, Ark., began its traditional winter-spring meeting this afternoon, and here are a few track-characteristic facts (finessed by human hands, not third-hand info copied out of a book!) you might want to keep in mind when you play there.

At five and a half furlongs, speed does OK, though it doesn't dominate the way it does at other distances there.

Thirteen of the 27 winners at the distance in 2000 were behind a length or less at the second call. That's 48 percent. Another 10 winners were between one and five lengths back at that stage of the race. That's 37 percent. The remaining four winners at the distance were five lengths back or more, translating to a surprisingly good 15 percent.

As for second-place horses at five and a half furlongs, the numbers were similar to those of the winners, though the speed that didn't hang on did a little better when it came to at least running second.

At six furlongs, 300 races were run. The real speed types, again not farther than a length back at the second call, went over the 50 percent mark, winning 165 of those 300 races, 55 percent. The "stalkers," if you will, won 98 times, or 33 percent. And the laggards hit the winner's circle 37 times, 12 percent.

The exacta-completers, i.e., runners-up, at six furlongs were a more varied bunch. Only 43 percent of them were front types, while the stalkers rebounded to a 40-percent strike rate. And even deep ralliers got up to finish second 17 percent of the time.

But the mile leaves absolutely no room for doubt, if the 98 races run at the distance at Oaklawn last year are any indication.

A dominant 64 of the 98 winners at a flat mile were on the lead or not more than a length back. That's 65 percent! The stalkers managed 27 percent winners, with the far-back closers accounting for a rare 8 percent frequency of success.

However, when the speedballs didn't hang on at a mile, the stalkers at least were able to pick up the pieces. Frontrunners ran second 40 percent of the time, compared with stalkers taking 46 percent of the second-place finishes. And don't expect the stone closers to complete the exacta at a mile - they did so only 4 percent of the time in 2000.

And at the mile-and-a-sixteenth distance, the stalkers had their best opportunity. They won 40 percent of the time (37 winners from 93 races at the distance), reasonably close to the 45 percent strike rate of the front types (42 winners). Closers couldn't be entirely ruled out, thanks to a 15 percent (14 winners) win percentage.

As for the second-place finishes at a mile and a sixteenth, the frontrunners improved their percentage somewhat, though the numbers closely reflect those established by the winners.

Practical pointers, then, for playing Oaklawn, from a track-characteristic standpoint:

Stick with the speed at a flat mile, at least on the win end. Pretty much dismiss the really deep closers. And if you like lone-speed sort of plays, you make them confidently at this trip.

And given the mile's propensity for favoring speed types, it figures that stretchout horses who'll bring their natural speed to the two-turn trip, should do OK.

However, when the mile front types go the extra half-furlong and try a mile and a sixteenth, it might not be a bad idea to want them to have some tractability - the free-running style suitable to the mile doesn't play nearly as well at a mile and a sixteenth.

And if you have to succumb the temptation to play a really deep closer, it'll most likely find success at the tracks two "half" distances - five and a half furlongs, and eight and a half furlongs (mile and a sixteenth).

That should help.

And just in case you were not certain, "gates" and "windows" are synonymous only if you're the founder of Microsoft.

BC Classic Previews in February?
Probably not, though the Donn Handicap at Gulfstream and the Strub Stakes at Santa Anita do boast some heavy hitters who did well in last year's richest North American race.

In the Donn, Captain Steve heads a hard-trying field. Captain Steve rallied a little to finish third in the 2000 Breeders' Cup Classic, and now makes his first start since that effort. Can he do it?

No doubt the horse has talent, but trainer Bob Baffert enters the Donn on a nine-race Gulfstream Park losing streak.

Despite the current track jinx there working against Baffert, he really didn't have a choice. That's because recently crowned Horse of the Year Tiznow, gutty winner of the Breeders' Cup Classic last year and already a winner in 2001 when he ground out a victory last time in the San Fernando Breeders' Cup, obviously dominates the four-year-old and older-horse division at Santa Anita, and where's the sense of banging your head against the wall against a champion?

So Baffert ships, and that leaves Tiznow to stand head and shoulders above a decidedly outclassed four or five horses in the Strub at Santa Anita. Trainer Jay Robbins deserves all sorts of credit for having Tiznow ready for any race, what with the patch the horse has to wear to protect a delicate hoof, and the old business about races being run on the track and not on paper stands as the only excuse the challengers have for entering.

In the Donn, ALL-IN-ONE V5 suggests a stand against Captain Steve might be in order. Old-timers Pleasant Breeze and Sir Bear might fit the bill, and no line is given to the frontrunning Albert the Great. Another potential spoiler -- North East Bound.

Tiznow looks a lot stronger in the Strub than Captain Steve does in the Donn. At least he has the goods to come up on top, though that morning line of 1-5 looks awfully tempting to try to beat.

Practical Pointer #5 (in a continuing series)
One of the handy tools we use to determine how a track plays is known as PCP, or Pace Contention Point.

Essentially, PCP is a measure, expressed in lengths, of how far back a horse can be at the second call of a race and still have a reasonable chance to win. It's based on actual data, adjusted a little for potential and reasonable fluctuations. The lower the PCP, the worse the prospects for horses that do their best running from behind.

ALL-IN-ONE V5 prints the PCP out for each race you handicap, as long as you've established a Track Model and kept it up to date. And it points out some lulus.

Like at Gulfstream Park, where at the end of January, the mile and a sixteenth races had a PCP of 0.98. Or at Santa Anita, where the PCP for six and a half furlongs also hovers near 1.

If nothing else, PCP can be very helpful in eliminating horses that go against the flow of what's been succeeding lately at any track you've been playing. See a low PCP and you can toss out the laggards without fear of retribution, moral or otherwise. If you're considering playing a horse on ALL-IN-ONE who bucks the trend set by the current PCP, you might want to think twice, or at least temper your enthusiasm.

You can simulate the PCP experience - no illicit substances necessary, but bring them along if you like - by keeping track of your track and noting where the majority of the winners at each combination of distance and surface have been coming from.

Meltdowns in February?
While come-from-behinders are always up against it, they don't do half-bad at certain joints.

Take Fair Grounds, for example, from Jan. 3-31, 2001. Twenty-eight races there were won by a horse who was five lengths back or more at the second call. Twenty of those were at six furlongs or shorter. Translation: the back can attack at this track.

Amazingly, none of the tracks so-called meltdowns came on the turf! Must be something in the dirt there in New Orleans.

Conversely, Sunland Park is a place where but five total collapses occurred during January. It comes out to less than five percent of the total races. In beautiful New Mexico, you can toss the horses from the back and not worry.

At other places, it's a mixed bag. Aqueduct, for instance, doesn't have many collapses, but when they do occur, they make sense. Only five six-furlongs races there blew up on the front end, but in each of them, at least three runners of the early or pressing style were in the field. The typical number of speedballs entered was more like five or six. So you can understand the dynamics of the race, at Aqueduct, have more to do with a meltdown than the surface itself, while at Fair Grounds, the old notion of a tiring surface might be valid.

Gulfstream Park is another track at which ralliers have their work cut out. In January, just three six-furlongs races went haywire, and in two of those, there were five front types apiece signed up.

The turf routes there do a reverse, however, and can promote the late-runners.

Santa Anita, too, only two six-furlongs races were accounted for by extra-deep closers, and in them, there were three and four unrateable types in the field.

In 10 of the 15 dirt meltdowns at Santa Anita, the frontrunner had some serious company, pressed by the second-place horse by less than a length.

Moral of the story? Expect a pace collapse on a track or surface notorious for it, at any time. On other tracks, make sure there's a hellacious duel going on for the lead, with the leader and other front types likely to expend too much energy fighting hard for the front.

Big Doings
That was a lot of good info up top, gratis, so we feel no shame in letting the pitching begin.

Not really. Not paragraphs of it, that's for sure. This is just to remind you to enter the Big-Prize Handicapping Contest. You can win neat stuff, including American currency that spends well in all 50 states, every U.S. territory and even parts of Canada, especially the regions close to the border. Leave the imaginary totems for the breatheless survivors of the chat rooms. You deserve better! Also, it's time to update your par times, and this year, we've come up with an even more reality-based, effective way of expressing the vital pace times to the first and second calls. This fresh new approach strengthens our commitment to you to provide you with the absolute best handicapping information possible. Visit www.cynthiapublishing.com and click on the areas that interest you.

We appreciate your readership and hope your week goes well. See you next time.

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