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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Taking Del Mar Form to the Bank (Or Lack Thereof)

- Del Mar's first Polymeet is over, but the ramifications go on for the horses that ran on it; and for us horseplayers trying to figure out what the form there will mean at other tracks. We've heard from time to time some talk about more subtle injuries than the ones that make the news and which comprise the fatality statistics. Steve Davidowitz, writing in the subscription-only DRF Plus section of the Form, reports that while some trainers were effusive in their praise for the new surface,

Other trainers also reported that many horses incurred minor back injures and hindquarter problems, in part because of the way the shallow, powdery upper crust of the synthetic surface gave way under the weight of Thoroughbreds kicking forward for traction with their hind legs.

Some Del Mar officials conceded privately that the complaints had merit, and the track's president, Joe Harper, publicly admitted that an evaluation of Polytrack has begun for the express purpose of implementing changes that will improve things for 2008. [DRF]
Davidowitz feels that the demanding nature of the surface may give these horses a conditioning edge, and writes that he will treat Polytrack races as having contributed to a horse's overall conditioning while disregarding actual finishing positions when comparing one horse against another.

Now here's another theory about the track that I found extremely interesting and wanted to throw out there for your consideration. This comes from ViewFromVegas, a forum site established by Dave Tuley, whose columns from Las Vegas for the Daily Racing Form you may recall. The poster goes under the name Crick, and he's just not any forum poster; he's a good buddy of our good buddy Walter and comes highly recommended. And, whether you agree with his theory or not, I think you'll at least certainly find it quite thoughtful and worthy of discussion, and I'd be interested if anyone has any thoughts.

Crick contends that for whatever reason, perhaps because a conventional drainage system is not necessary on Polytrack, the main track at Del Mar was not constructed with the usual banks, or inclines that you see elsewhere. That would make it more strenuous for a thoroughbred to maintain his path when negotiating the turns. So while the general wisdom was to blame the surface for the meet's various ills, contending that it became tiring as the sun beat down on it in the afternoon, Crick has another theory.
ALMOST everybody blamed the surface for (a) speed not carrying well routing, even though it carried well sprinting (b) fast work times in the morning, but much slower times in the afternoon (c) horses flattening out in the stretch.

..Let's look closer at these 3 factors, with a flat track in mind. (a) speed horses had to work extra hard around the turns, with no help from the track, they had to work doubly hard running through turns. Some horse[s] could do it negotiating one turn...most horses couldn't do it negotiating 2 turns..

(b) The workouts at DM start to get timed at the 1 1/4 [chute]. If you look at a layout of the track, this is the long straightaway that leads to the home stretch. The times were more a product of "where" they were working, than "how" they were working. Most, if not all, of the workouts were being done in a straight line.

(c) Trevor Denman is the best in the business at finding the winner of a race early. He missed more this meet than the rest of his career combined. It is because unless a horse was extremely fit, and it helped if he was a left-sided runner, negotiating the turn took so much out of them, they flattened in the stretch even though it appeared they were making a menacing move around the turn. Martin Garcia figured that out the 2nd half of the meet, and was the best jockey during that time. Yes, the polytrack was a slower surface. Yes, it required a great deal of stamina to be successful over it. It was also the fairest surface I've seen, the bigger bias IMO was the physical structure of the track, and not the surface itself. []
So, he has some suggestions on what kind of horses to follow that I'll leave to you to read in detail at the above link (it's in three parts) rather than re-printing the whole thing here.


Anonymous said...

The only inconsistency is that on a flat track ground loss would become more important. This is analagous to what occurs at LRL/PIM. Yet, there was really no sign that the 5-wide sweep was a consistently bad move.

Anonymous said...

I'm in total agreement with Crick here. Without a banked turn, horses are forced to slow down on the turns (much more than they would otherwise), which is very likely why you would see a swarm of horses suddenly lining up across the track when they turn for home. That was one of the first things i noticed when the meet started. The horses (whether leading or not) were also forced to expend more energy to maintain their position around the turns, because they weren't able to take them smoothly, as they would on a traditional, banked surface. And it probably didn't help that the surface is deep and tiring to begin with. So, after dealing with the turn, many horses had likely blown their wad. Particulary the ones who were a little short on conditioning coming into the meet. I do believe that many horses showed marked improvement in their second starts over the surface, due to their upgraded conditioning. And perhaps because the turns didn't come as quite a shock to them the second time around...who knows. The lack of banking is 100% a factor @ Del Mar. How much of a factor is open to debate.

Anonymous said...

Del Mar's banks were reduced from 4-4.5% to 3% all around the track this year, so the surface certainly wasn't flat and there was very little change for inside horses. Outside horses got a bit of a break, not having to maintain speed "uphill" around turns, which may have contributed to the mild outside path bias that appeared during the meet. Interesting point about workouts though -- I didn't realize that DMR works started in a chute.

Anonymous said...

Fravel wanted to get the track as close to level as he possibly could, and fought opposition and finally agreed on 3%. Lots of whispers that this never happened though, and the track was much flatter.

Alan Mann said...

Without knowing anything about the banks during the meet, when watching the races I got the feeling that those horses making the outside moves seemed to lack some traction rounding the turn for home; so what Crick says makes a lot of sense to me from a visual standpoint.