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Wednesday, October 02, 2013

A Late Super Saturday Wrap

I wanted to write about Super Saturday while the subject was still fresh. But Sunday wasn't so super after a mishap at the gym left me with a gash on my head ("a full 3 centimeters," said the nurse), a visit to the emergency room, an application of glue to patch the wound, and a tetanus shot.

Now, it's already Tuesday night Wednesday morning, and my arm where I got the injection is killing me!

OK, well, still want to write a bit about the day and besides, I have to get in an I-told-ya-so or two on Orb.  I'll try to include some stuff you may not have read elsewhere, if that's possible these days.

I think there was kind of a tale of two cities thing going on at Belmont that day - those who knew about the gold rail/speed bias thing that had been, we're told, pervasive at the track just about since it opened for the fall meeting.  It was clear from following the experts and insiders on Twitter, especially from NYRA's analyst Andy Serling, who regularly excoriated jockeys, both via tweet and during his pre-race prattle, for not getting on board with what he saw as a rail bias of historical proportions for the Big Sandy oval.

And then there were those who were blissfully ignorant, and just carried on like it was a normal day.

Despite what may appear to be a somewhat dubious tone above, I'm not here to argue the existence of the bias.  Yes, I'm generally bias-skeptical, think that people often jump to conclusions based on scanty evidence. That's especially the case with speed biases on dirt tracks since our game here on those surfaces in North America generally lean in that direction.  I myself have not followed the Belmont races closely enough on a daily basis to dispute what was a rather overwhelming consensus of people whose opinion I respect.  Having said that, I'd certainly contend that there were cards on which there simply weren't enough dirt races to conclude that the track was biased on that particular day, and some days on which the track seemed to be playing fairer than on others.  (One example of the latter was two Sundays ago, a day on which, perhaps not coincidentally, all ten races were contested on the main track.)

Well, I'm not really sure if the know-it-alls had much of an advantage over the know-nothings on this day.  Personally, I don't find speed and/or rail biases to be all that helpful.  If it's obvious who's gonna be in front, the horse is overbet; and, if it's not, it's not necessarily much easier to identify who is going to lead at the beginning as it is to identify who is going to lead at the end.  On the other hand, I love closing biases.  Partially because I love betting closers.  Just find it easier to throw all the speed horses out than to figure out which one is fastest; and simpler (and more fun) to pinpoint the horses with the best closing kick.  That's why I used to love the synthetic tracks; but now, they seem to have started to favor speed too.

I was glad to see I'm not the only one who has his doubts about these things; most of the horseplayers I spoke to before the card wanted to see for themselves before making any conclusions.  And what did they conclude?  Well, there were six dirt races, two didn't tell us much - a maiden race won by a big Pletcher favorite, and Princess of Sylmar's conquest of Royal Delta in the Beldame.  In the remaining four, the rail was surely not a bad place to be; that's for sure.  And it seems almost inevitable these days that the track would be fast and speed-friendly on a big race day.  Probably the best evidence of a bias was in the 4th, when Cay to Pomeroy, a gelding who had shown little interest in competing of late, broke alertly, darted to the rail, and dominated thereafter.

The Kelso was a strange one.  It seemed like everybody and their brother, and first cousins too, hated Graydar as the favorite coming off ankle surgery, a 182-day layoff, and featuring a lackluster running line from his only try over the track, over a similar amount of time away.  Don't know anyone who liked him, and thought the betting would reflect that.  Yet, somebody obviously did and he drifted down in the wagering instead and went off 4-5.  It was a "gotta bet against him" moment, and seemed too obvious to be true.  I bet Hymn Book at  6-1, who ran to be third; but Graydar rode the rail to the win.

The Vosburgh was probably the most exciting finish of the day, when Private Zone - yes, the speed horse on the rail - fought back to beat Justin Phillip after that one put a head in front and seemed to be on his way to his second straight Grade 1 win.  May have been the rail that made the difference.  Or it could have been the bumping incidents, the first one mutual, the second one clearly delivered by the winner.  Even the chart caller editorialized on the matter, asserting that Private Zone bore more responsibility; but the result stood.  Which I presume means the stewards thought the bump came too late to change the outcome.  Because it was a pretty solid bump.

And then there was the Jockey Club Gold Cup, the highlight of my wagering day - I decided to pass the race since all of horses I considered contenders were underlays in my view.  And yeah I know, Ron the Greek came right up that rail, but who would have thought that would be a factor beforehand, even though he did draw the one hole?  And besides, according to Trakus, he covered 67 less feet than did runner-up Palace Malice which, we're told, translates into around seven lengths, plenty enough to account for his margin of victory.  He was perfectly competitive on the least on our TimeformUS numbers, but hadn't won on a fast track since the Foster in 2012 and hadn't really threatened to do so recently.  Bill Mott said that he runs when he feels like running; classic in-and-outer I guess.  Who's to say that he won't feel like running in the Classic either?

As for last place Orb....well, surely not a surprise in this corner as you know if you've been following here.  From the way he flattened out late in both the Belmont and Travers, two races in which he seemed in perfect position mid-stretch, I conjectured that he seemed to have no interest in fighting to win and may have lost his competitive edge.  Got flamed here by a couple of people for writing that, and I wonder if they'd reconsider that after this fiasco.  The skeptics amongst us are surely waiting for the imminent announcement of an operable bone chip and a permanent vacation to stud.

Couple of other notes:

 - If the bias was indeed a factor on the day, you probably didn't read about it in the press stories the next day (or any day for that matter).  As is the case with most matters of wagering, there's a huge divide between the insider's game at the races, and the way it's reported in the media.

 - NYRA devotes a healthy portion of its infield tote board to advertising, which is perfectly understandable.  But it would be nice if, during the relatively fleeting time during which the races are actually being run, they would utilize Trakus to its fullest and display the animated version of the race instead.  Especially since you can't hear the race call in many places throughout the grandstand, nor get a good view of the smallish video screens on the board.


Andy said...

Speed biases are a tough thing to determine, as logically they make little sense, outside of sloppy tracks where perhaps the kickback can be inhibiting, but rail biases are another thing entirely. The rail has universally been the absolute place to be from the Opening Day card through Super Saturday. Finally, tis changed demonstatively on Sunday.

I will bring up two examples, one that you very mistakenly touched upon. The Sunday of ten dirt races absolutely confirmed the rail bias. Just because a horse closed from last, like Able Baker Charlie, does not mean it did not take advantage of the rail bias. That horse was adroitly ridden on the rail until the latest possible moments, when Alex Solis eased him out for his stretch run. The longshot that finished second also never left the rail. If you don't believe me, go visit the Trakus page on and see how those that saved the most ground did on that day.

As for the Beldame, Royal Delta was never on the rail, while Javier kept Princess of Sylmar on the rail as long as possible, about the first 6 furlongs, before angling to the 2 path, and then finally the 3 path ( as late as possible ).

Alan, I'm much more with you on biases, and you know this, as the worst thing one can do is imagine a bias, as four bad things will happen if you do this. You will bet the wrong horses, at the expense of the "right" horses, both coming in, and much more importantly, going out.

I also agree, playing a biased track is VERY tricky, whereas most of the money you will make will be going forward when the track evens out. If Sunday was any indication, this may well be the case going forward during this meet.

As I know you are a man with LOADS of free time, feel free to go back and watch the dirt races from the first 16 race days. Some days did seem stronger than others, but overall, the rail was absolutely the place to be....and some days there was NOWHERE else to be.

I hope your arm, and head, heals soon.

Figless said...

I thought the bump warranted a DQ but may be a tad biased, made the difference between a winning and losing day for me.

The proof, to me at least, is that JP actually took the lead by about a head, then suddenly PZ fights back on the rail to win it. Live, I thought it was the "bias" but the replay clearly showed the bumps and the second one seemed to knock him off stride. Its very rare for a quality horse to give the lead back once he passes another horse deep in the stretch.

Your last point is well taken, no one is looking that the advertising during the race, put Trackus up there. The advertising forces the pool amounts to be squeezed so that the Win pools can not be read at times, at least for the favorites with higher totals.

I was not surprised but disappointed that the PA system still has not been upgraded. At a minimum, could they turn a speaker or two around to fact the grandstand so those of us that actually use the seats can hear the race?

They ALL point outward to what most days is a vacant apron.

My friend who rarely gets to Belmont thought the sparse attendance for such a terrific card was quite sad, he is used to the full grandstand at Saratoga.

Figless said...

"FACE" the Grandstand, not "fact".

Figless said...

Hopefully your unfortunate training injury prevented you from suffering through the Jets game.

I thought Palace Malice should have been moved back to the rail once he took the lead, although the margin of defeat indicates it probably would not have mattered.