As always, it never hurts to know what's going on at the tracks you play or are thinking of playing.
Back a deep-closer on the dirt at Belmont or Hollywood? No, thanks. Try to get a frontrunner home on the Arlington turf? Maybe, but there have been easier feats in racing.
Eliminating horses that are unable to go with the winning flow makes the handicapping easier; it also is a painless way for you to put a few extra percentage points, pari-mutuelly speaking, in your pocket when a favorite or low-priced contender has to buck the winning trends. Prices on the horses who conform to the current reality of the surfaces underfoot will be juicy -- and entirely within realm of conversion into winners.
The following is a quick list of the three-dozen-odd North American racetracks currently running and how they're behaving in relation to running styles over the past 30 days or so. Small samples are a bit of concern at the newer meets, but at least some light will be shed on how they have been playing early on.
Arlington: The first month of the meet has found a main track that in sprints has been a little more early-speed-friendly than last year. But the route distances, including the unique one-turn mile, have been rally-friendly. Turf has played to type, nearly all closers.
Arapahoe: Five and a half furlongs is very front-oriented, while six furlongs has been fair. The frontrunners return to dominate the seven-furlong trip. Routes have been mixed.
Assiniboia: As usual, six furlongs is all early speed all the time. Even the longer seven-furlong and mile-and-a-sixteenth distances are better for frontrunners than at most tracks.
Belmont: Another track that's playing to its frontrunning type. Six furlongs is a mismatch favoring the early speed, while seven furlongs also has been amazingly front-oriented -- so much so that there haven't been any horses making up more than half a length inside the final furlong in the last month! The dirt-route distances also have been early-friendly, and it's way-cool to note that the one-turn miles back East (Belmont, Aqueduct) are quite different from their midwestern (Arlington, Churchill) counterparts. On turf, the inner course has played much more early-speed-friendly than usual. Frontrunning milers will have a hard time hanging on, but a mile and a sixteenth has been OK for them.
Canterbury: The short sprints (five and a half furlongs and six furlongs) are all about the frontrunners. But beyond that and the after-the-second-call crowd has done well enough. On turf, it pays to wait here, but not too long -- the big moves almost always occur after the first six furlongs but before the final one.
Colonial: What a lovely pair of turf courses, eh? It's vital to distinguish between outer turf and inner turf, at least in terms of running styles. Outer turf has been as friendly to frontrunners as a grass layout can be -- not that frontrunners rule, but they have a shot. But on the inner, and the traditional turf running-style paradigm takes over, literally in the late stages.
Calder: A little flip-flop in South Florida so far this year, probably owing to the inordinate amount of rain that area has been receiving. All the sprint distances give the advantage to the early speed, and even the two-turn mile has been squarely in favor of the frontrunners. Even a mile and a sixteenth, while tilted toward the ralliers, isn't as rally-friendly as many other tracks are. Forget about the turf -- too many races have been washed off it.
Charles Town: Schizoid behavior here. Of course, the four-and-a-half-furlong distance is big for the frontrunners, but not so at six and a half. Seven is split down the middle, while a mile and a sixteenth is a little bit late-oriented.
Delaware: Playing toward early speed, as always, in sprints, but maybe a tad less than last year. However, the flat-mile trip has been death on frontrunners, with ralliers taking more than their fair share. Mile and a sixteenth is the same, with a little shift toward frontrunners in mile-and-70-yard races. On turf, a mixed bag, with "about" one-mile races going to frontrunners but exact-distance races going to the closers.
Emerald: Not extremely speed-favoring at six furlongs, but more so at six and a half. The flat-mile and mile and a sixteenth are slightly tilted to late-runners.
Evangeline: A flip-flop from last year, with late-runners having the edge at all the major distances.
Fort Erie: Six furlongs is more rally-friendly than in past years, though the five and a half furlongs and six and a half furlongs are OK for the early leaders. The major mile-and-a-sixteenth dirt-route distance is mirroring last year's performance -- late-runners having the edge. The handful of mile-and-a-sixteenth turf races have been a big boon for ralliers.
Finger Lakes: Five and a half furlongs is OK for late-runners, while six furlongs is split down the middle. Routes are nearly even-steven, though it's interesting to note that there have been no final-furlong ralliers winning at a mile and a sixteenth.
Fair Meadows: Early, early, early in the meet! Nine six-furlong races, all nine have been won by the opening half-mile. The flat-mile also has been very speed-friendly. And you know what? That's exactly how this track behaved a year ago!
Fairmount: Always a speed-favoring haven, this track has been even more beneficial to the early-runners this year.
Great Lakes: Like last year, a frontrunning paradise, though the three-turn mile has been geared toward late-runners right now.
Grants Pass: Better than last year for frontrunners at five and a half furlongs, but worse at six and a half.
Hollywood: As early-speed-favoring as ever, especially at the longer seven-furlong distance. Routes are more early-favoring than normal. Turf is behaving as late-favoring as ever, though the sprint distance of five and a half furlongs has been much, much kinder to frontrunners this year.
Hastings: Almost the same as last year, though there haven't been too many six-furlong races yet. (Sounds weird, doesn't it?) Six and a half furlongs is OK enough for frontrunners.
Louisiana: Always a speed-favoring trip at six furlongs, but that's even more so right now, very early in the meet. The mile and a sixteenth on turf has been exclusively rally so far.
Lincoln: Again, a repeat of last year at six furlongs -- all speed all the time. However, the routes have been a lot fairer than in years past -- and ralliers are doing OK.
Lone Star: A little more speed-favoring than last year, but, overall, still a reasonably fair track, relatively speaking. Routes are as fair as it gets. But on turf, the main moves almost prohibitively occur not before the first six furlongs -- even more this year than last!
Marquis: Another speed-favoring track that's upholding that reputation into 2002.
Mountaineer: Wild and wonderful West Virginia! Amazingly, the late-runners are ruling the roost, at least for now, in the span of the last month. Frontrunners will find it white-knuckle time in the final furlong. Turf is, as expected, another boon for the ralliers.
Monmouth: Frontrunners dominate across the board here, even at the three two-turn route trips of the flat-mile, the mile-and-70 and the mile and a sixteenth. Turf is a rallier's dream, with the late-runners advantage extending in tandem with the distances.
Northlands: Unlike the other Canadian tracks, closers are doing OK at six furlongs, but it's way-early in the meet. Nothing definite yet.
Penn National: Speed's still doing very well here, but not like the runaway train it became in 2001. Right now, one of the few grass courses where frontrunners and tight-pressers can last all the way to the wire.
Philadelphia: Very much an early-speedster's game here currently. No trip is too long for the frontrunners to last here. Turf is rally-friendly.
Pleasanton: Like last year, the six furlongs is as fair as it gets.
Prairie: Like last year, slightly speed-favoring at six furlongs and at a mile, but rally-friendly at a mile-and-70. Emphasis back to early speed at a mile and a sixteenth.
River: A little less early-speed-friendly at six furlongs than last year, but still a great flat-mile trip for frontrunners to persevere at. The few on turf have been a mixed bag.
Rockingham: About the same as last year, though not yet as early-speed-favoring at six furlongs. The route races are almost identical, however, and no successful moves have been undertaken inside the furlong pole. Turf has seen early-types doing better than usual for now.
Ruidoso: Perception as speed-favoring makes sense. Even the weird seven and a half furlongs has been nice to the frontrunners, with no stretch-passers having come away with a win.
Thistledown: Less speed-favoring than last year, especially at the two-turn mile trip.
Woodbine: About the same as last year, though frontrunners aren't romping as often as they did last year. Seven furlongs on turf is for late-runners, though no final-furlong passers have won. A mile and a sixteenth on turf has been OK for frontrunners, too.
And that's the end. At least of this particular section.
Here's to the winners, who performed with flair and courage throughout May and June.
Winner of the Straight Division and $175 in American cash-money is the great Edward Barengo, who parlayed Sarava's shocker in the Belmont into a win by $20.80 over runner-up Mitch S., who also had Sarava. Fifty bucks goes to Mitch, along with our best wishes for a win in the next contest, tentatively titled the phantasmagoric Del Matoga Edition of the Big-Prize Handicapping Contest, pending approval from the California State Handicapping Contest Tribunal.
In the Exotics Division, Diane B. blew doors off the rest of the field when she was one of the chosen few, a connector on the gargantuan trizacta (and, to a lesser extent, the exacta) of Sarava, Medaglia d'Oro and Sunday Break. The race was for place, as they say, and that went to C. B., some $26,500 behind Diane B. but better than $400 ahead of the third-place. Diane gets $125 for her efforts (from us, anyway; the mutuels have already taken care of her) and C. B. gets $50.
Thanks to all who took part, and watch this space on July 19 for juicy details on the monster we call Del Matoga.
What do you think of this?
It could pay off big, but it'll take a large dose of luck in addition to an accurate appraisal of each horse's true ability.
For example, Tiznow had already stamped himself as the best handicap horse on dirt by virtue of winning the 2000 Breeders' Cup Classic. But since he was hardly in that same sort of form during much of 2001, he likely would have been a monster, monster price in July of that year, nearly four month before his successful defense.
Who are the bona fide Grade I Classic winners who might snatch this year's BC Classic? Answer that question and win a prize. Perhaps a big, big prize.
The Sprint is a much harder proposition, given that many three-year-olds still need to solidify their credentials -- and probably will -- between now and October.
And the same is probably true for the Distaff, where the three-year-olds will be a force to be reckoned with. But just which three-year-old filly that turns out to be, well, who knows? Hence the prospect of a large price, particularly considering Azeri's stranglehold on the filly-and-mare ranks.
Just a guess, but the top Grade I handicap stars right now are Milwaukee Brew, Street Cry and Macho Uno. The three-year-olds are in transition, though it is hoped that the sensational Buddha will make a full recovery to carry the hopes of his generation. In early wagering, Street Cry and Macho Uno are one-two, with the gutless Dollar Bill not far behind. Buddha and Milwaukee Brew have been relatively unnoticed.
Raging Fever and Fleet Renee represent OK value at this point, though Fast Capper 2002 is hankering for action on his brand-new heroine, Atelier.
In Sprint future-wagering, Left Bank leads the pack, off his scintillating track-record-setting Tom Fool run on Independence Day. And obviously some people hold out hope for the hopeless, given Officer's status as runner-up in the early betting. Mayakovsky and Ethan Man are three-year-olds who need to develop to get there, but they've shown decent foundations, and there've been much more improbable Sprint winners.
The machine (a.k.a. Fast Capper 2002) is back for more, though given the thickness -- please, feel free to interpret that word however you want -- of this week's issue, not to mention the machine's big performance on the Fourth of July, he will present only the day's Graded-stakes action. We appreciate your understanding.
(As always, these are based on fast tracks and firm courses, and before any raceday scratches. In the event of inclement weather or wholesale changes, please allow for your personal adjustments.)
Best wishes for a prosperous weekend.
There is one Saturday stakes race that isn't Graded but very well would be if it weren't being run for the first time.
It's the inaugural running of The American Oaks at Hollywood Park, a mile and a quarter on the turf for the three-year-old fillies of the world -- and they do mean world.
Fourteen exceptional fillies were invited to participate, four of them traveling in from the continent. Of course, it's hard to rate these horses since they don't publish fractional times overseas, so we have enlisted the machine's erstwhile sidekick, the futbol-lovin' man, to dope out the race for us.
As is his wont, the man prefers trying to beat the favorite, in this case 5-2 Megahertz for otherworldly Frankel. The man is guessing MHz will not take kindly to the mile-and-a-quarter distance.
Of the domestic crop, he prefers Riskaverse and Maliziosa, both of whom possess excellent rallying styles and a pedigree that should get the extra route of ground.
Then the Europeans, of whom Ombre Legere already is proven this long. Also in the mix as likely to stay the trip are Dublino and Saranac Lake.
That makes five live contenders, and in a 14-horse field with a mild favorite looking to get beat, the prices must be appetizing. Ten-to-one, then, on any one or three of them, and exactas paying better than $125. The man acknowledges those prices might seem too high, but this seems like one of those races.
Postscript: The man tends to agree with the machine in the U.N., saying Sarafan and With Anticipation make sense; however, the man would substitute Denon for Crash Course.
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