Racing & Wagering

Tracking the Trends

Churchill Downs Communications | 07/17/2008 #

Visually, a given racetrack may look the same from day to day, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to play the same.

During the course of a long racing season, trends will surface on a semi-regular basis. Heat, moisture and day to day maintenance all have an effect on how the track “plays”.

On some days, speed holds up better than others. On another afternoon, closers may have an advantage. Sometimes the inside is a better place to be than the outside. Being able to uncover whether or not there is an advantage can be key to your daily wagering success.

If you can determine early in the card that the track is speed favoring or extremely tiring, it can be of great benefit to you in the middle and late races - particularly in pick threes and pick fours.

Keeping detailed records on track trends can also give you a major advantage over your wagering foes when you are handicapping races down the road.

Was a particular horse helped or hindered by your perceived trend that day?

If there was a surface advantage, and the horse you are handicapping ran with it or against it, you now have an important, added clue to determine how they may perform over the surface that now faces them in their upcoming race.

Here are some clues on how to sniff out track trends, and we’ll limit our hints to Polytrack and turf, the surfaces that apply to Arlington.

Speed advantage 

  • There is little change in any position during the running of a race. Horses are well strung out.
  • Despite fast fractions (when speed should tire), the front-runners are holding up well.
  • Speed horses who always tire are holding on a lot longer than usual, particularly longshots.
  • Closers who figure to run well can only pass tired horses and fail to threaten the leaders.
  • Horses who make a big move on the turn simply flatten out in the drive.
  • A strong head wind in the stretch makes it difficult for late kickers to close ground.
  • Turf courses that are dry and very hard from lack of rain often favor speed. On the flip side, very wet and “boggy” grass courses can also favor front running types.

Closers advantage

  • Even with an uncontested lead through soft early fractions, speed horses tire in the stretch.
  • Closers who usually fail to threaten rally strongly into contention late in the race.

When the rail is good, speed can be dominant because the horse that makes the lead is usually guided over to the rail. Horses that close on a good rail probably don't deserve as much credit next time, while those who race well on the dead, outside part of the surface deserve extra attention next time out - if that day's surface is playing fairly.

If you download past performances, the Daily Racing Form's free Formulator software can give you a major advantage. It allows you to keep a data base of past performances. When you put in a trip note or trend note, the program will store the information. The next time the horse runs, your own, personal notes will be displayed on your pp's. If you are religious about doing your after-race homework every night, you will have a decided advantage over your competition in the days to follow.

If dedicating yourself to Formulator is a little much, just keep a detailed list of days where there was a definite style advantage. Overlays can often be found when speed horses run well on a day where closers rule, or when a closer runs a big race when speed is king.

Inside posts and ground saving trips have been beneficial over the Arlington Polytrack the majority of this meet. The post position No. 1 is winning the highest percentage of the Polytrack races in both sprints (16.16%) and routes (18.24%).

According to my records (through July 2), there have only been eight days were the track has noticeably favored one style over another. There have been other days where one type of horse may have held a slight edge over another, but nothing significant enough to hang your hat on. Remember, evaluating trends is purely subjective.

Arlington Polytrack style advantages

Date                 Trend
Fri, 5-2            speed
Sun, 5-11         closers
Sat, 5-17          closers
Sun, 5-18         closers
Fri, 5-23          closers
Fri, 5-30          inside/speed
Sat, 5-31          inside/speed
Sat, 6-21          inside/speed 

Last season, the first run over the Arlington Polytrack, inside speed was very good for the final six weeks of the meet. It will be interesting to see if that trend plays out against this summer.

Remember, there is not a style advantage every day. If the majority of the winners on a given card are speed types, that doesn't necessarily mean that the track is favoring front runners - if they are the best horse, they probably didn't need the help.

It is difficult to determine a track trend after just one or two races have been run, but uncovering a potential style advantage early on can give you the leg up. Uncovering the trend early in the day, before everyone catches on, certainly gives you the opportunity to catch a better price on horses who fit the profile.