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Examining Polytrack Statistics

Churchill Downs Communications | 06/30/2008 #

Horseplayers crave consistency. From the jockeys to the trainers to the horses to the way the track plays, those who take this game at least semi seriously want to feel comfortable with the fact that they have a handle what’s going on.

The introduction of synthetic racetracks a few years ago has presented a new challenge to horseplayers, particularly those who follow a certain circuit religiously.

Last summer, the first raced over Arlington’s Polytrack, was a learning experience. Hopefully we gained enough knowledge to help make us more confident and therefore potentially profitable.

When examining the Polytrack stats over the first two months of the current meet, several numbers stand out. First off, and somewhat surprisingly, post-time favorites performed extremely well early on, winning the 39 of the first 96 races run (41.2%). That number has leveled off in recent weeks, with the public choice now winning 34.6 % of the time overall.

True horseplayers appreciate a nice mix of winners. Most steer away from chalk, but are willing to back a horse at a short price if they believe them to be offering fair value. Square-priced horses that players “like” based on their handicapping, those in the 5-1 range, are the kind that most seek. Through the first two months of the meet at Arlington, 55.5% of the Polytrack winners have been sent off at odds of 3-1 or less, and 30.2% have gone off between the odds of 7-2 and 9-1. From the 315 races run over the Arlington carpet, 45 (14.3%) have been taken down by “longshots”, horses at odds of 10-1 or higher.

A mixture of prices makes the multiple race wagers both playable, and profitable. Catch a couple of 3-1 shots with a 7-1 and a 12-1 and watch how well the Pick Four pays. Or even a 5-1 with a 2-1 in a Daily Double.

If you’re playing a track regularly, you don’t want an overabundance of “chalky” winners or too many longshots either. It’s the balance across the board that makes the racing interesting.

Horseplayers do their best to determine which horses will win, or in the case of putting together gimmicks, run well. Even if the horse we back at the windows runs fifth, we like to feel that we got a run for our money. It might be odd to say, but sometimes the horse who runs fifth actually runs a winning race.

Through the first two months of the meet, 36.3% of the Polytrack races have been won by ¾ of a length or less. That’s a lot of photo finishes. On the flip side, blowouts are few and far between. Only 8.9% of the Polytrack races have been won by margins of at least five lengths.

Although there have been days where the Polytrack has favored a certain running style over another, the track has been amazingly fair nearly all season, and the stats prove it. Late running types, horses who are at least five lengths behind through the first half of the race, have won 53.3% of the Polytrack races, while early pace types, those who are on the lead or within two lengths of the front through the first half of the race are scoring at a 46.7% rate.

Here’s a fact you may not have realized about the early season Polytrack races: Much like grass racing, it is important to save as much ground as possible. Unlike dirt races where horses on the inside may not be comfortable because of kickback, Poly races tend to greatly favor runners with inside trips. The stats tell us that 55.5% of the Poly races have been won by horses who have been on the rail the majority of the trip. Sure they may have swung outside for the stretch run, but the key is saving ground early on.

To take that one major step further. Of the 189 Polytrack sprints that have been run, only 11 (5.8%) have been taken from horses outside of post eight. Sure, with short fields in some of the races there are no horses in those outside gates, but post nine is 4 for 77, post 10 is 5 for 49, post 11 is 2 for 30 and post 12 is 0 for 12.

Those number hold in route races as well, where posts outside of seven have won only 13 of the 125 races (10.4). Post eight is 3 for 73, post nine is 3 for 47, post 10 is 2 for 33, post 11 is 3 for 18 and post 12 is 0 for 5.

Regardless of the surface, whether it’s turf, dirt or Poly, horses who endure wide trips throughout have a tough time winning. They simply cover more ground than their inside traveling counterparts. That being said, horses who make wide moves over the Arlington Poly, regardless of how much they appear to have left in the tank, often flatten out. If you see a horse that makes a threatening wide move but flattens return with an inside post against a similar field the next time, upgrading their chances is probably a good idea.