- I was watching some races from Turfway the other night, and the kickback seemed even thicker than usual. The people who had claimed that "The most obvious advantage to Polytrack is no kickback" must have also believed that the government of Dubai should be running our ports. I’ve seen some posters on the Derby List speculate that there could conceivably be adverse long-term health effects on the horses that breathe in the synthetic material. Perhaps in a few years, we could see Lawyer Ron, who didn’t care for the surface himself, represent his comrades in a class-action suit against the manufacturers. But that's all just speculation.
Now comes word in Bloodhorse that my observation was prescient - the kickback was more pronounced, and in fact, track officials were summoned into a meeting with jockeys after the 8th race on Saturday. .…The jockeys who called the meeting told officials the track seemed different than it had several days before.
"Some of the fiber was sitting on top of the surface, and it got colder, so it was flying a little more than normal," Elliston said. "The surface was a little looser. We asked them if the surface was unsafe, and they said it wasn't. They were just providing feedback." [Bloodhorse]Track president Bob Elliston speculated that the cold weather makes the surface looser, “but we haven't definitely determined what needs to be done."
The incident comes after some recent grumbling about the surface. Railbird linked to an article in the Guardian UK containing complaints that Polytrack made it harder to pick winners, reducing betting "to the level of a lottery, almost," and citing a reduction in winning favorite percentage from 36% to 30% at one race meeting there.
And then there was Andy Beyer’s column in which he complained that the lack of a track bias and more uniformity will deprive bettors of many of those edges [that] come from detecting differences in racetracks. [Washington Post] Patrick at Pulling Hair partially countered those complaints by pointing out that: good speed will still kill in racing, and cheap speed will set up for stalkers, and ludicrous speed will be used on ships in Spaceballs and set up for closers.
Beyer wrote that the sameness of Polytrack will deprive the game of its subtleties and make it too predictable, comparing it to that usual whipping boy, harness racing. In response to that, I’ll say that despite the fact that the trotters race the same distance every time, discerning bettors can still get plenty of juice from variable factors such as post positions, different pace scenarios, driver changes, track sizes (half mile to mile configurations), class moves, and, of course, our old friend the tote board. That being the case, I don’t need to list for you readers all the variables that would still make thoroughbred racing the fascinating and potentially profitable game that it is, even if track biases are reduced. As Patrick said, bettors don't get kicks out of cheap speed going gate to wire, and the reduction in breakdowns and the incredible 80% increase in total handle at Turfway shows that whatever its faults, Polytrack has been fantastic for the horses and the bettors. And what else can you ask for?