Polytrack Handicapping

It was just a matter a time before the fuzz was off the peach, the shine was off the new driver, and the marriage between the synthetic tracks and the owners hit a snag and it happened recently at Del Mar when prominent owner Ahmed Zayat and President Joe Harper had a spat that got out of control.

The issue of the animated confrontation was the difference of the Del Mar surface in the morning to the afternoon. What bettors have to realize is that you have two distinct surfaces. In the morning, when the cloud cover cools the beach area, the track is tight and faster.

As the cloud cover disappears and the sun starts beating down on the track, the surface will slow and you have a whole new ballgame.

This has been going on forever on the conventional dirt surface but with the Polytrack, the times have been decidedly slower and form has changed.

Zayat, who wanted Harper to adjust the track, lived up to his threat to move his horses from Del Mar and about 10 were on the plane the very next day.

Harper stood by his guns and informed Zayat the people that invented the track were adamant not to tinker with it during the meeting and that is the way it will go.

Zayet hit the nail on the head when he addressed the entire breeding situation. In California especially speed has been king almost since Day One and when you tinker with the basis of your breeding operations, you will have long term consequences.

Trainers are used to putting speed into their horses, but now that very speed can play as a negative. Down the line, where will that leave the entire breeding industry?

It could leave it as the odd man out and in a confusing flux. Established stables have studs build for the prior age of California, speed, and now all of that has changed.

Consider what Bob Baffert, who has about 25 horses for Zayat, told Jay Privman in the DRF, Baffert: “I know if I buy a fast-looking horse and I put him on dirt, he’ll be a fast horse. Now, you need a turf-influenced pedigree. I’ve got some horses that it will move way up. The jury is still out on this.”

Last year there were 20 deaths of horses at Del Mar and that is what Harper wants to avoid. Zayet wants consistency, and you can’t blame him for that.

Bottom line is that it is a work in progress and bettors have to try to jump on an angle early and ride the wave.

One thing to consider is long works on the Polytrack. Consider Saturday’s races. In the opener a 12-1 comebacker had worked 7 furlongs before his return and he ran a solid second.

Good Man Dan, who had a race over the Polytrack, took the second. And the winner of the third followed that same pattern.

The winner of the 4th had three solid workouts over the surface. The winner of the 5th at 7-1 had a race over the track. The winner of the 8th also had three solid drills locally.

Gamblers have to look for fit horses that have some Polytrack experience and hope the price is right.