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Formful = Profitable

| Churchill Downs Communications | 05/21/2008 #

In our opening week column, I discussed last summer’s transition to Polytrack, and offered hope that the experience handicappers gained would translate into positive results this season.

So far, so good.

When Polytrack, and synthetic racing surfaces in general, burst onto the scene, even the most savvy of horseplayers had a difficult time cashing tickets consistently.

The public had a tough time zeroing in on the right horses here last May. Through the first 91 races over Arlington’s Polytrack in 2007, post time favorites won only 18 times (20 percent). In fact, there were more horses winning at double digit odds than there were favorites crossing the line in front. Twenty of the first 91 winners were 10-1 or higher (22%). Horses sent off at odds of 3-1 or less won 36 times (40%).

Those numbers have done a 180-degree turn in the early stages of this season. Through the first 97 races of the current Arlington meet, post time favorites are winning at a 41% clip (40 for 97). Horses sent off at odds of 3-1 or less are 61 for 97 (63%), and longshots (10-1 or higher) are winning at just a 12.4% clip (12 for 97).

With the exception of e-ponies, published in the Chicago Tribune ($1.49 ROI), all of Chicagoland’s public handicappers are off to very fast starts. My personal return on investment is a respectable $1.89 ($2.00 is break even), but the Value Plays posted on the Arlington website are kicking back at $2.39.

Scott McMannis of the Chicago Sun-Times ($2.02) and Ron Uchman ($2.14), whose selections can be found on the Arlington website, are both showing profitable numbers early in the season, and with a $2.41 return on investment, Daily Racing Form’s Marcus Hersh has been on absolute fire. Hersh’s selections can also be found in Arlington’s Daily Racing Guide.

So is the racing making more sense, or is it a coincidence that the Polytrack game has seemingly become more formful?

It’s probably a combination of both, but experience across the board is the key component to improved, across-the-board success. With time comes a larger sample of races and more data to draw on. Horses now have established records on synthetic tracks, both nationwide, and more specifically at Arlington. We’ve also gotten a better handle on what horses are bred to handle the synthetic surface.

The national average of winning favorites is roughly 33 percent, but early on Arlington’s number is significantly higher (41%). The red-hot Wayne Catalano barn has certainly contributed to the high success rate of post time favorites. He’s sent out the public choice 13 times, winning with 11 of those (85%). Remove Cat’s numbers from the equation, and the percentage of winning favorites on Polytrack drops to 35.7.

Despite the fact that favorites are scoring at a high rate, the average winning payoff on Polytrack is still a very inviting $11.35, compared to $11.63 in the 18 turf races. Gimmicks payoffs have also been rock solid. The average $1 Superfecta is coming back $3,677.70, and the $1 Pick Four is returning an average of $1,980.55.

There has been no advantage to racing inside or outside, and horses of all running styles have had a fair chance to win. It is interesting to note, however, that outside posts have not faired well at all in the Polytrack races. Post positions 8-12 are a combined 5 for 132 (3.7%), but post 7 in sprints has proven to be very successful (11 for 48, 22.9%).

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Make plans to come to Arlington this Saturday, May 24. A rare stakes tripleheader, featuring the inaugural $200,000 American 1000 Guineas, the $150,000 Arlington Classic and the Grade III $100,000 Hanshin will be offered.

I’ll also be conducting a day-long, interactive handicapping seminar. If you’d like to learn more about how to read the program, and/or wagering strategies, or just want to hang out and talk racing, stop on by one of the designated locations throughout the day.

I’ll be joined by red hot handicapper Marcus Hersh of the Daily Racing Form in the Starting Gate Theater from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. During the racing day, you can find me at the West Kiosk near the marquee tents (1:30 to 2:30 p.m.) and at the East Kiosk near the park area (3 to 4 p.m.).

Remember, every question is a good question, and I want to hear your opinions and wagering theories too. I still have a lot to learn myself.

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