Archive for Polytrack

Are Large Fields and Polytrack Connected???

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Dick Powell of Brisnet.com…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

Handicapping Insights

The Blue Grass Stakes (G1) was run for the eighth and final time on Polytrack Saturday and California shipper Dance With Fate (Two Step Salsa) will go into the history books as the last winner over the synthetic track.

Whether or not Dance With Fate goes on to greatness three weeks later in the Kentucky Derby is a moot point. He beat 13 rivals in a terrific betting race and joins the likes of Bandini, Sinister Minister and Millennium Wind that won the Blue Grass and little else.

I picked those three as they won the Blue Grass back when it was run on dirt. Since switching to Polytrack, the Bluegrass has had a spotty record producing classic types but that was the case in the most recent years when it was run on dirt. Not much changed but at least the Blue Grass renewals that were run on Polytrack had big fields.

A couple of years ago, the Jockey Club spent millions of dollars to have McKinsey & Co. do extensive market research on our industry. One common theme that they, and every other forum, has come up with is that field size is a critical component of business success. Bigger fields create more exotic wagering opportunities and more betting.

Despite its universal acceptance, racing still pays lip service to field size. It brags when it is up marginally but despite fewer foals produced, still runs too many races. A slight increase in field size barely results in marginal results. When we say we want bigger field sizes, I have to quote a panel at a Thoroughbred Racing Association seminar that stated, “We want seven 10s and not 10 sevens.”

In other words, seven races a day with 10 horses in each instead of 10 races a day with seven horses in each. But each day, despite McKinsey’s research that reinforced what we already knew, racing still gives us 10 sevens each day.

No further proof is needed when you look at the recent decisions of Keeneland and Del Mar to pull out their Polytrack and go back to dirt. It’s not like dirt is the new surface and they were taking a big gamble to install it. They have years of experience on dirt, eight and seven years experience with Poly, and they ignored the proven advice that bettors want big fields.

In the years between 1999 and 2006, the Blue Grass was run on dirt at Keeneland. The average field size for the eight runnings was 8.86 starters per race. When Polytrack was installed for the 2007 meeting, the last eight runnings of the Bluegrass Stakes had an average field size of 13.14, an increase of 48 percent. If you were told that field size for your premier three-year-old race would increase by 48 percent, you would agree to a synthetic track of plastic bottle caps.

I went back and looked at the Pacific Classic (G1) at Del Mar to see what the results were when they switched to Polytrack in 2007. In the years between 2000 and 2006, the Pacific Classic was run on dirt and the average field size for the seven runnings was 8.28 starters per race. When Polytrack was installed for the 2007 meeting, the average field size for the seven runnings increased to 10.71, an increase of 29 percent.

As far as betting was concerned, it was hard to gauge the results since over the past 14 years, betting menus have changed dramatically and more wagering options fractionalize existing pools.

Was the Blue Grass a better Kentucky Derby prep when it was run on dirt? I would say yes, but not by much. Was the Blue Grass run on Polytrack a better race? I would say yes, by far.

WHAT’S YOUR TAKE?

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Has The Synthetic Era Ended For American Horse Racing???

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Steven Crist of DRF.com…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

Tread wearing thin on synthetic era

The announcement last week that Del Mar will replace its Polytrack racing surface with natural dirt for the 2015 racing season may well signal the end of the synthetic-track era in American racing after less than a decade.

The number of important races run over various synthetic surfaces peaked in 2008 and 2009, when 38 Grade 1 races each year – more than a third of the nation’s Grade 1 inventory – were run on Polytrack at Del Mar and Keeneland, Cushion Track at Hollywood, or Pro-Ride at Santa Anita. There were still 31 synthetic Grade 1 races in 2010 when the Breeders’ Cup and its seven main-track Grade 1’s moved to dirt at Churchill. Then Santa Anita switched back to dirt in 2011, Hollywood closed its doors for good at the end of 2013, and now Del Mar is switching back to dirt.

So from that high of 38 synthetic Grade 1’s in 2008 and 2009, there are likely to be just six synthetic Grade 1’s in 2015, all at Keeneland – unless and until that track switches back to dirt, a move many in the industry believe is now inevitable.

Keeneland’s signature main-track races – the Blue Grass and Ashland in the spring, and the Breeders’ Futurity, Alcibiades and Spinster in the fall – have declined in stature during the Polytrack era, having been won largely by grass horses who have had little other success in Grade 1 races on the dirt. When Keeneland had the only synthetic Grade 1 races in the sport back in 2006, it was a pioneer. If it still has them in 2015, after the biggest venues that followed its lead have changed back, it might instead be perceived as stubbornly clinging to a rejected technology despite its longtime motto of “Racing as it was meant to be.”

The proprietors of both Del Mar and Keeneland have said that they want to host Breeders’ Cups in the future, and while the Breeders’ Cup has taken no official position on requiring a dirt main track, it became clear after the 2008 and 2009 editions on Pro-Ride that the future of the series was on dirt.

“There is no way we would have gone back to Santa Anita so many times if they hadn’t gone back to dirt,” said one Breeders’ Cup board member. “And I think it has been made very clear to Del Mar and Keeneland that any chance they have of hosting a Breeders’ Cup is contingent on having dirt tracks.”

Regardless of what Keeneland does, the other elephant in the room when it comes to synthetic surfaces is the $10 million Dubai World Cup, the world’s richest race. The World Cup was conceived as a dirt race and when it was run at Nad Al-Sheba from 1996 through 2008, it routinely attracted top American dirt horses, including the victorious Cigar (1996), Silver Charm (1998), Captain Steve (2001), Pleasantly Perfect (2004), Invasor (2007), and Curlin (2008).

Since being run on a Tapeta surface at Meydan in 2010, it has become a nearly meaningless race beyond the money, with no championship implications and diminished American participation. Changing the World Cup from dirt to Tapeta was clearly a premature move, probably based on the Maktoum family’s false impression that racing in America and perhaps elsewhere was headed for a synthetic future.

Now, with synthetic Grade 1 racing on the verge of disappearing from the sport here, and little movement abroad toward racing top-class horses over anything but grass or dirt, running the world’s richest race on a synthetic surface makes it something of a white elephant, little more than a rich novelty.

Del Mar is currently searching for the right kind and mix of dirt for its new main track, and that reflects an opportunity for other American tracks now that the synthetic age is passing: To take the time, effort and money that was spent trying to invent new racing surfaces into improving the safety and quality of dirt tracks in this country.

While there was plenty of politics and misinformation behind the introduction of the synthetic tracks, many of their advocates were well intentioned, trying to improve the welfare of horses and riders. Now that the sport has pretty much decided to keep its main-track racing on dirt in this country, that goal should be preserved, and the entire industry should work together to make dirt racing as safe as it can be.

WHAT’S YOUR TAKE?

Back To The Future: Santa Anita’s Dirt Returns

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Steve Andersen of the Daily Racing Form…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

SANTA ANITA’S DIRT TRACK WILL OPEN MONDAY FOR TRAINING

ARCADIA, CALIFORNIA – Santa Anita’s newly installed dirt track is scheduled to open for training Monday, the completion of a project that ends a troubled three-year period with synthetic racing surfaces at the historic track.

By opening the main track Monday, and the barn area Sunday, Southern California horsemen will have less than three weeks to acclimate their horses to the new surface in advance of the opening of the winter-spring meeting on Dec. 26. Santa Anita will have the only dirt track at the three major Southern California venues. Hollywood Park has a Cushion Track synthetic surface, while Del Mar has a Polytrack surface.

Installed over the last six weeks, Santa Anita’s new surface consists of 90 percent sand, using two types of sand, and 10 percent clay.

Because most horses are making a transition from synthetic surfaces, Santa Anita officials are urging horsemen to take a slow approach to introducing their runners to the new track.

“We’re asking them to give it some time to jog their horses and let horses get comfortable with it,” track president George Haines said. “It’s important to get open three weeks before opening day, so we can make any adjustments, if necessary.”

Earlier this fall, Haines said the new racetrack installation cost more than “$3 million.” Richard Tedesco, who has maintained Santa Anita’s track in recent years, will oversee maintenance of the new track, Haines said.

The track was designed by Ted Malloy, with frequent input from horsemen’s groups.

“We get horsemen every day looking at it,” Haines said. “We had a transparent process.”

Haines said Santa Anita’s maintenance crew was scheduled to begin grooming the track Wednesday and will work the surface for five days before Monday’s opening.

The timeline for installation has been largely met, despite a few weather-related delays in recent weeks, Haines said.

“We had a couple of hiccups but we were able to keep the schedule,” he said.

Santa Anita track chairman Frank Stronach committed to the installation of a dirt surface during the summer at the urging of horsemen’s groups. After the existing Pro-Ride synthetic track was removed in October, the base of the new track was installed in mid-November. In the last week, the installation of the upper layer of the surface was completed.

The base and upper layers of the surface will have a depth of 15 to 17 inches.

Santa Anita’s three-year era with synthetic tracks was plagued by maintenance problems and poor drainage. The track lost 11 days of racing during the 2007-08 meeting, the first with a synthetic surface, and five days of racing earlier this year because of poor drainage.

WHAT’S YOUR TAKE?