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2010 Keeneland Fall Meet Preview

Date

Race

Dist.

Surf.

Condition

Purse

8-Oct

G1-Darley Alcibiades

8.5

Poly

2yo, Fillies

$400,000

G3-Phoenix

6.0

Poly

3up

$175,000

9-Oct

G1-Shadwell Turf Mile

8.0

Turf

3up

$600,000

G1-Dixiana Breeders' Futurity

8.5

Poly

2yo

$400,000

G2-Thoroughbred Club of America

6.0

Poly

3up, F&M

$200,000

G1-Abu Dhabi First Lady

8.0

Turf

3up, F&M

$400,000

G3-Woodford

5.5

Turf

3up

$100,000

10-Oct

G1-Juddmonte Spinster

9.0

Poly

3up, F&M

$500,000

G3-Bourbon

8.5

Turf

2yo

$100,000

16-Oct

G1-QEII Challenge Cup

9.0

Turf

3yo, Fillies

$400,000

21-Oct

G3-Sycamore

12.0

Turf

3up

$100,000

22-Oct

G3-Pin Oak Valley View

8.5

Turf

3yo, Fillies

$150,000

23-Oct

G2-Lexus Raven Run

7.0

Poly

3yo, Fillies

$250,000

30-Oct

G2-Greenbrier Fayette

9.0

Poly

3up

$150,000

 

Racing at Keeneland can mean only one of two things: the start of spring or the start of fall.  And while the spring meet begins with the knowledge that the Kentucky Derby is right around the corner, the fall met signals final weeks for preparation prior to the Breeders' Cup. 

This Friday and Saturday are the prime days of the 2010 Keeneland Fall Meet, at least in terms of the races that could have a major impact on the Breeders' Cup.  Juveniles take center stage on both days with Friday's G1-Darley Alcibiades featuring the fillies and Saturday's G1-Dixiana Breeders' Futurity spotlighting colts and geldings.  The two sprint races on the main track probably have a bit less significance this year with the Breeders' Cup back on dirt, but the three turf races (Shadwell Turf Mile, Abu Dhabi First Lady and Woodford) could all have a major impact on the entry box at Churchill Downs in a month.

Last spring I prepared a preview of the Keeneland meet by diving into the track's Polycapping Database.  If you haven't checked out the wealth of information at the Keeneland website, I highly recommend you do so.  From the training reports, to the raw statistical data, to the race replays - Keeneland provides tons of great information for the horse player looking to delve into the details. 

Similar to the spring meet preview, I've summarized some of the trends at Keeneland since the conversion of the main track to Polytrack prior to the 2006 fall meet.  This first chart takes a look at winners during past fall meets and the surfaces they raced on prior to winning at Keeneland.

Keeneland Fall Meet

2006 - 2009

524

Main track winners

489

Non-FTS winners

Win%

91

Wire-to-wire

18.61%

113

Last race DIRT

23.11%

55

Last DIRT but 1 SYN/TURF

48.67%

137

Last race TURF

23.02%

239

Last race SYNTHETIC

48.88%

431

At least 1 SYN or TURF start

88.14%

93

No TURF or SYN starts

11.86%

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Note: While there have been 524 main track races during the previous four fall meets, 489 of those races were won by horses that had at least one start in their career prior to that win.  All of the above numbers and percentages are for non-first time starters only.

Previous form and experience over a synthetic track as a prelude to success is an attribute that is debated by many handicappers.  Some believe it's not necessary to have previous turf or synthetic experience win over synthetic surface, while others believe it's a key element of spotting synthetic winners.  Looking at the profile of winning horses on the main track from past Keeneland fall meets, we can definitely see a bit of a pattern developing.  

Almost a quarter of main track winners the past four years ran their previous race on dirt (23.11%), but almost half of those had a least one start on either turf or synthetic tracks prior to running on Keeneland's main track.  Last out dirt does win on the main track but horses without turf or synthetic experience don't win nearly as often (11.86%)

Put all those main track numbers together and you get the big takeaway: a little over 88% of the main track winners during Keeneland's fall meets since the Polytrack changeover have had at least one race over a synthetic or turf track.  Almost nine out of every ten winners - that's a big chunk.  Now, unlike some previous years (especially the first couple of Polytrack meets), more and more horses are showing up in main track races with previous turf and synthetic track experience.  Trainers have identified the pattern and adjusted accordingly.  But those horses that don't have that experience, especially if they are so-so in other aspects of their form, have a lot of history against them.

Let's look at another aspect of racing at Keeneland, and that's the average position after a ½ mile of the winners on both turf and Polytrack and in routes and sprints.

Average for winner at 1/2 mile

Races

½ leader

%

Polytrack

-2.34

524

96

18.32%

Route

-3.45

185

21

11.35%

Sprint

-1.74

339

75

22.12%

Turf

Races

½ leader

%

Route

-4.06

116

14

12.07%

Sprint

-4.27

105

11

10.48%

-2.06

11

3

27.27%

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Note: The numbers in this chart include first time starters.

One definite change in the way races are run at Keeneland after the switch from dirt to Polytrack is the reduction in the effectiveness of frontend speed.  Only a little over 18% of all Polytrack races in the fall are won by horses on the lead after a ½ mile and twice as many of those winners comes in sprint races, as opposed to dirt race.  That makes complete sense as we would generally expect horses with early speed to fare better in sprint races than going two turns,  but at the same time,

The average winner in Polytrack route races at Keeneland during the fall is almost 3 ½ lengths behind the leader after a ½ mile.  In sprints, the average winner is approximately 1 ¾ lengths behind the ½ mile leader.  The contrast in position makes complete sense when you consider that most sprints are run at distances of 6 to 7 furlongs; those numbers effectively illustrate the difficulties in winning from the front.

When I was originally outlining this post I was going to insert a paragraph here talking about sprints 2010 meet and how speed had started to fare much better on the main track than it had in that past.  At least, that was what my mind recalled from last April.  It turns out, however, that if you look at the data from the main track during the 2010 spring meet the Polytrack played almost identical to the other spring meets, especially in sprint races.  In fact, if you summarize and sort the data by meet and by winners that led after a ½ mile in routes and sprints, this is what you'd find:

Average for winner at 1/2 mile - by meet

Polytrack-Route

Races

½ leader

%

Fall 06

3.93

53

3

5.66%

Fall 07

3.44

43

6

13.95%

Fall 08

3.12

39

7

17.95%

Fall 09

3.21

50

5

10.00%

Polytrack-Sprint

Fall 06

2.39

83

14

16.87%

Fall 07

1.40

85

19

22.35%

Fall 08

1.62

88

23

26.14%

Fall 09

1.56

83

19

22.89%

Polytrack-Route

Races

½ leader

%

Spring 07

3.51

44

4

9.09%

Spring 08

3.08

38

8

21.05%

Spring 09

2.72

45

13

28.89%

Spring 10

1.76

39

15

38.46%

Polytrack-Sprint

Spring 07

1.78

73

17

29.63%

Spring 08

1.14

81

24

43.06%

Spring 09

0.73

72

31

43.66%

Spring 10

1.11

71

31

43.66%

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I really like this chart for a couple different reasons.  First, you can plainly see a difference in the way the main track plays in the fall and spring.  Speed holds much better in the spring, especially in sprint races.  Second, we can see an uptick in the number of horses that are winning routes after leading after a half mile (again, more so in the spring than in the fall).  That uptick in route winners on the main track, however, could be attributable to factors other than a fundamental change in the track; it could be a change in the way the jockeys run the race or a change in the types of horses trainers are entering the race.  After a couple of meets, it's a good bet that  trainers became better at identifying which horses had a better chance of success on the main track.

Perhaps the biggest take way from the above data is that while speed is starting to perform a bit better in the fall in route races, it's still a difficult proposition in terms of winning.  And sprint races, in both the spring and fall, have remained extremely stable in terms of the numbers of winners that have led after a ½ mile.  The average beaten lengths, however, have jostled around a bit in recent years.

One other final tidbit of information, and it's something I am including because it pretty much eliminates on of my favorite angles to play from time to time, and that's horse debuting on grass.  Since the start of the 2006 fall meet, Keeneland has run 231 races on their turf course, and of those 231 races, not one horse has won without a previous start on either turf or synthetic.  Not one. 

Playing the dirt-to-turf firster angle is one of my favorites, mainly because it's a pure pedigree play, but it's almost a certain loser at Keeneland.  Of the 231 turf races in all meets since 2006, 194 were won by horses with a previous win on turf (84%).  Of the 37 that hadn't won on turf?  27 had won on synthetic.  The other ten?  9 had a previous race over turf and one had a previous race over synthetic.  Seventeen horses have won using the last-out-dirt-to-turf move, but all seventeen of those has at least on start on turf or synthetic.  "Dirt only" horses haven't won on the Keeneland turf course in over four years.