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Aug 02, 2007

AMERICAN TURF CLUB LEAD

By: JOE GIRARDI


            We spoke about the Polytrack surface at Del Mar last week and how it was difficult to get a handle on how the track was playing— what type of horses win on this surface, can you win off a layoff, can you win on the lead, is the track too tiring, do you need a race. Well with some developments that occurred at Del Mar this week there may be more who feel the same way.

            Prominent horse owner Ahmed Zayat and Del Mar’s president Joe Harper got into an animated discussion near the stable area racing office that was very heated at times and this discussion ended with Zayat saying that he was going to immediately remove his horses from the grounds. Zayat has concerns over the consistency of the racetrack. Bob Baffert who trains most of the horses for Zayat and several other trainers said that the Polytrack is firm in the morning, when the coastal fog keeps temperatures mild, but loose and tiring in the afternoon, when the sun beats down on the surface. This has become a problem for many horses who are obviously not handling the surface in the afternoon. Baffert, who has trained many of his horses over the surface has said that the horses have trained well in the mornings but a lot of them are not running well in the afternoon because the track surface is different in the afternoon. This makes it very hard to train horses with two different surfaces from morning to afternoon and even in the afternoon from race to race.

            When Zayat saw Harper he asked to talk to him, with Zayat basically wanting Harper to water the track in the afternoon in hopes of tightening the track. Harper, however said he was not going to do that because he didn’t want to go against the advice of Martin Collins, the company who installed the Polytrack, which told Del Mar not to water the surface. "I won't mess with it until after the meet is over," Harper said. Zayat said: "I've heard what I need to hear. I'm not staying here. Goodbye."

            Harper went on to say that many trainers have come up to him and said that they love the track and how they can’t have the breakdowns that they did last year, which is totally understandable but is the surface the only reason why this is happening? Zayat went on to say more things concering the Polytrack. "People who say they are behind these artificial surfaces say they’re doing it for safety, but they cannot be holier than the Pope," Zayat said. "The tracks have to be consistent. You can't have different tracks and say it's safe and fair. It's the epitome of hypocrisy." Zayat said he was of the belief that "what distinguishes American racing is speed," but that Polytrack was "artificially slowing down" brilliant horses. "The way the Thoroughbred runs is so majestic," he said. "Why are we doing this? "No one is against safety," Zayat added. "But what is the right surface? I'm totally supportive of synthetic surfaces. But you need a surface that is both safe and maintains the integrity of racing. You can't take the speed out."

            The most telling quote there by Zayat was the integrity of racing, we don’t have that anymore. They ran a Grade I sprint race in 1:11, a race that would normally go in 1:08 more than 15 lengths faster. Baffert who was the leading trainer at Del Mar from 1997 to 2003 has only one winner at the time of this article. He ran a horse in the Grade I Bing Crosby, E Z WARRIOR, who is owned by Zayat, but he didn’t get out of the gate and never showed an ounce of speed looking like he had some trouble handling the track. Baffert’s main concern like Zayat’s is that the track is too inconsistent it doesn’t play the same in the afternoon as it does in the morning. If you train a horse in the morning and he goes in a good time and handles the track well and then in the afternoon you have a game plan that is quickly out the window because the track is totally different how can you train with confidence, ride with confidence and obviously you can’t bet with confidence.

            I know the big thing these days are the synthetic surfaces but as usual with anything that is done in racing it is done without thought. I’m not sure they went about these changes the right way and from things I hear from fellow racing fans is that they are ruining the game. It is very hard to step out and make a big bet on races that are run on the synthetic surface. The cushion track at Hollywood Park plays the most consistent and the times are very comparable to what they were before. But this surface at Del Mar is very tough to deal with and with Santa Anita making the change let’s hope there aren’t as many problems.

            Please note:   The Daily Racing Form past performances of horses that have previously run at Del Mar can be misleading. Those stats are for past performances where the horse ran on a conventional dirt track while the surface they are running on today is a totally different surface that the horse may or may not take to. It can be misleading especially for those who haven’t been reading the Form their whole lives.

Quotes are taken from an article which appeared in the Daily Racing Form on July 30, 2007.



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