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Thursday, August 02, 2007

My Private Patch of Polytrack

Here's a picture of horses galloping in the ocean that's hanging at Del Mar. Who knows, perhaps if this Polytrack thing doesn't work out, we can try dirt again, but this time submerged under an inch or two of sea water. We still wouldn't have to worry about the track getting sloppy.

They give away Polytrack samples at Del Mar, though I'm pretty sure that they don't really intend for one person to take five of them; but chalk it up to the news gathering process. I was able to construct my own little Patch of Poly, and it looks like this.

It feels more or less like it looks - like cookie dough that's been rolled around in sand, dental floss, cat hair, and patches of cloth in various colors. I could almost describe it as being gooey. And I mean, seriously, what the hell is that light blue square thing?

Forget cancer; a jockey or horse could freaking choke to death if something like that flew down their throats!

At Keeneland, the races were going slow early, as riders feared being in the lead, and fast late. Some derided the races as 'European' or turf racing; personally, I didn't mind it at all. But at Del Mar, the horses are going slow early, and even slower later. Now I don't at all disagree with people like reader mutaman, who wrote: I'm tired of seeing racehorses break down. That trumps everything else. I can adjust my handicapping. I've been all for the synthetic track experiment, and I'm not all that concerned with final times. But it's the way the horses here are finishing - or I should probably say, not finishing, is what makes this racing seem ugly to me. It's said that the track is tiring, and a look at some of the closing fractions from Thursday would seem to bear that out. 27 seconds for the final quarter of a one mile $75,000 allowance race; as well as in two six furlong races (for cheaper horses).

What seems to be bugging horsemen like Ahmed Zayat is track management's refusal to water the surface in the afternoon sun to try to maintain the same "tightness" as in the cool mornings. I've always been fascinated by the fact that the stuff doesn't get sloppy, so I ran my own experiment on my private Polytrack.

Man, this is some wacky stuff to be sure. I washed my hands quite thoroughly before having dinner. The water does roll off, but the Polytrack does get wet, and I could feel why some argue that moisture makes it tighter. Del Mar has made it clear that they will not tamper with the surface, and Mike Mitchell is one trainer that supports that decision:

"To change it for just one person would be terrible," said Mitchell, who has been part of the horsemen's committee that has been meeting with Del Mar's management about the Polytrack on a continuing basis. "I'm glad Joe stuck to his guns and whatever happens, happens.

"Everyone's pulling up good. I haven't had any soundness problems. As far as I know, Bob Baffert hasn't had any soundness problems. His horses just won't run.

"So far it seems like this track is very safe. I think it would be a joke to change this track for one person. As far as I know, Baffert is the only one complaining and he probably wouldn't be complaining if his horses were winning." [North County Times]
Joe is Joe Harper, the DMTC president, and for him, safety is the number one issue. "We'd all like to see the track a little faster in the afternoon, little tighter, but I think it will probably get there as it settles in and horses run over it."

Thursday's card was the first one that I didn't much care for. I went for a few races, and spent most of the day at the beach as our vacation starts to wrap up. No major bets today, though I was alive in the late double with Mommy Jean, trying to give Jeff Mullins his third winner of the day. She took the lead in the stretch, and continued in front to deep stretch before succumbing to 34-1 Gabby Lane in a final furlong of 14 seconds (and thus creating a Pick Six carrover of some $632,000).

- And I know I missed the thing about Lawyer Ron, his time and Beyer figure, but I just wanted to mention Dick Jerardi's defense of the 116 fig in the paid DRF+ section of the Form (and in Wednesday's print edition). Jerardi writes that Lawyer Ron's calculated figure based on the track variant was 123. But Mark Hopkins, who calculated the number, simply felt that the number was impossible based on his prior high of 109, as well as on the inflated numbers that the other runners would have then been assigned. So he came up with 116.
Beyer and Hopkins both pointed to a similar situation in the 2005 Whitney. The raw data suggested that the winner, Commentator, got a 123. Saint Liam was inches behind. Hopkins accepted the data at face value.

"And it was probably wrong,'' he said.

Commentator has not been close to that figure since then. And Saint Liam, the 2005 Horse of the Year and a really good runner, was simply not a 123 horse. [DRF]
I find it interesting that there are times that all the par times, variants, split variants and even the final time of the race seem to go out the window, and they just come up with a number that fits all the competitors in retrospect; one which you or I could have similarly come up with based on the historic figures of the horses. The concept of projected figures has always been a bit of a problem for me to accept. But that will have to be the subject of another post; I have to handicap the Test for the Special, and then get to Friday's card here. And the Haskell, is that this weekend?? (Any Given Saturday looks pretty nice there, don't he?)


Anonymous said...

You take much better photos of artificial surfacing (? - not sure of the proper word to use) than I do, that's for sure!

Tiring - that's the word I was looking for. Walking on the Tapeta at Presque Isle Downs was relatively difficult, but I wasn't sure how to describe it - that word fits. You kind of sink in, then have to lift your foot a bit more to get it out. Sort of like really deep sand. I should think that it takes more effort than dirt/grass.

Did you find that it was difficult to get off your hands? I use tweezers whenever I decide to poke around my little Tapeta sample, because I figure that every time I touch the stuff, I lose a little bit.

But, when it comes to colors, Tapeta wins hands down - it's a literal rainbow. If anyone's interested, I can upload a photo I got of all of the colors I was able to find.

And is it sad that we spend so much time fascinated by and poking through a dirt alternative?

Anonymous said...

Now I feel like I've seen Del Mar- the horses in the surf! Thanks,Alan. The Del Mar old timers used to say that exercising their stock on the beach is a natural therapeutic. The contrast with your polytrack demo couldn't have been more dramatic. Let's see what the SoCal "market" says after a few more years of experience with polytrack before considering it in NY./S/ Green Mtn Punter

Anonymous said...

A natural projection of the polytrack phenomena is that breeding for speed becomes less desirable and the value of certain breeding stock plummets. My thinking is that could be a good thing in the long run and those who are trying to turn thoroughbreds into quarter horses can simply go back to quarters. Their bodies can take the extra stress and they are a lot of fun too.

Anonymous said...

Why not give Highland Cat a shot on the Poly??? It would at least give you a chance ot go to Cincinnati (TP) or (gulp) Lexington (KEE) this fall!

Patrick J Patten said...

Thanks for the link. It's going to be a great race. I'll be rooting for Cable Boy, but there's a lot of horses you can make a case for.

Anonymous said...

Alan, Great info. from Del Mar. I hope you are having fun. I have not bet much at Del Mar (other than a losing bet on E.Z. Warrior) and do not think I will. I can't stand the races there and can not seem to pick any winners just observing. However, I did want to post a pickin Saturdays Test. I have been following and really am starting to admire Frankel's horse-Down. That filly appears to me to be able to run and I am most impresses witht he 20-1 morning line. Check her our and get you a little 5/1-7-11-12/1-7-11-12 & a 1-7-11-12/5/1-7-11-12. Byanose

Michael said...

When I first saw Polytrack it was at Keeneland's training track before they put the stuff down on the main track. It was raining cats & dogs all day and we walked down to the training track (in the mud) to see what this Polytrack fuss was all about. I put my hand into the Polytrack and everything below the very top layer was dry as a bone...

Anonymous said...

I noticed the same thing when I visited Turfway during its first Polytrack meet. It was a rainy evening, but the surface seemed to stay dry and fair throughout the card. The only apparent change was that the kickback lessened.

Anonymous said...

The Polytrack @ Del Mar has changed. Already. Not only is speed holding better than it was previously, Alan points out that the finishing times have been extremely slow. That's 100% accurate. It's also 100% new. Take a look at today's 4th race, for example. Take a look at the last race by Transvaal Scottis, which was run on the second day of the meet. Maiden claimers struggled through 5 furlongs in 100.2, but the somehow managed to get the last sixteenth in 6.2 seconds. Was that a fluke? No. Take a look at the last race of Bond, also entered here. His race was run on the third day of the meet. In that one, maiden claimers ran an even SLOWER 5 furlongs in 101.0, then got the last sixteenth in 6.2 AGAIN. Just looking at these races on paper, you'd think the horses were under a huge hold for the first 5 furlongs, then were let loose as they exploded through the last sixteenth. I can assure you, that wasn't the case. And these two examples aren't the only ones. Far from it. Also keep in mind they were maiden claimers; not exactly the kind of race where you find fast finishing times.

Now, how speed is suddenly doing BETTER as the finishing times get SLOWER (indicative of a more tiring surface), i have no freaking clue. I'm just trying to roll with it. It may change again next week, who the hell knows...

Anonymous said...

Those friggin astronauts didn't land on the moon in"68",they land ed in Mike Dickinsons' training track instead!!
Musta been a little tipsy...but no diapers were present

Unknown said...

I'm all for Poly as a training surface. I've worked with it on H/J and Dressage farms, and it serves the purpose well. But even there I noticed that horses got winded faster. We had less injuries; but until they'd been training on it a while, they were dog tired when they finished working.

I equate it to working out with a heavier rider, or with leg weights: It builds stamina and muscle with decreased risk of sustaining a training injury. But it isn't meant for competition.

Also? Unless you pick up after the horses, eventually it gets a little nasty. Because the manure takes longer to degrade. Just my $.02 ^-^