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Nov 07, 2008

=== A new era has begun ===

By: by Jeff Frank, Contributing Editor


 
  
Philadelphia,  PA  (Sports Network) - The practice of "red boarding" has been
around since folks began wagering on the sport of horse racing. Simply stated,
it's the process of making a case for the winner after a race has been made
official, regardless of how poor the horse looked on paper.

Most people look down on this course of action, especially if done in a way
that promotes arrogance, but it does have its place in the game. Astute
handicappers usually plow through previous past performances to uncover how a
horse was able to win, using speed and/or pace figures, track conditions,
class ratings, jockey tactics and every other handicapping method under the
sun.

The 2008 version of the Breeders' Cup was run over two days this past weekend
with five of the 14 races on Friday. Since nine more championship events were
to be run the following day, red boarding that day's card was perhaps the most
useful tool in figuring out how to play the races on Saturday, and it all had
to do with the new synthetic surface at Santa Anita called Pro-Ride.

There have been other types of synthetics installed at racetracks around the
country, beginning with 1988's Equitrack surface at Remington Park. Turfway
Park refurbished its dirt surface with Polytrack in 2005, and many other
tracks have followed suit the past couple of years.

Pro-Ride is the latest surface to be put in place, and what a day it was for
the so-called red boarders as the track provided one of the most dramatic
biases in the history of the Breeders' Cup.

The three non-traditional dirt races on Friday produced two dominating
performances by a pair of favorites in Stardom Bound and Zenyatta, and a
victory in the Filly and Mare Sprint by Ventura, who was the second choice in
the wagering.

The three fillies came into their respective events with a combined one career
start on real dirt in 26 career races. Stardom Bound and Zenyatta had each
proven victorious in their last starts on Pro-Ride, while Ventura had two
victories in three starts on synthetics.

More important than how these horses had done on the "fake" dirt was how the
track bias played out all afternoon. Stardom Bound was 12th in a 13-horse
field after four furlongs, Zenyatta was last of eighth horses at the half-mile
marker, and Ventura was in 10th position at that spot.

All three champions made their moves from the back of the pack and very far
away from the rail. On top of that, only one of the 12 horses that were first,
second, third or fourth at the half finished the race in the money.


TAKING ADVANTAGE OF THE TRACK BIAS

Attacking Saturday's card was made much easier after factoring in how biased
the Pro-Ride surface had been the previous day.

The two favorites in the Marathon were complete throw-outs. The 7-5 choice
Sixties Icon had yet to race on synthetics and was an easy toss out at the
price, since one should never bet a favorite doing something he's never done
before. The 3-1 second choice Zappa also had zero chance, as he was going to
be close up to the pace.

The field had now been reduced to five playable horses and four of the five
ran first, second, third and fourth completing a $2 superfecta just short of
$8,000.

More significantly, even with tremendously slow early fractions, the horses in
first, second and third after one mile finished eighth and last, seventh and
sixth.

The knowledge of how the track was playing set the stage for the next Pro-Ride
event - the Dirt Mile.

Well Armed, the 6-5 favorite, had absolutely no chance to succeed despite
three graded victories in his last five races. The reason? He likes to race on
the front end.

Lewis Michael, coming off a victory in the Pat O'Brien Handicap at Del Mar,
looked like a contender in the middle of the week but after drawing the rail
in this 12-horse field, could be tossed aside as well.

In fact, only four horses - Pyro, Albertus Maximus, Rebellion and Lord Admiral
- were playable based on their running styles and the track bias. The two most
accomplished of the four, Albertus Maximus and Rebellion, finished one-two and
combined for a $218.60 exacta after being well placed in ninth and 12th with
only two furlongs remaining.

The Juvenile was the ugly duckling event of the day, as the three colts that
held the top three spots at the half ended up in that very same order under
the wire. Nonetheless, Midshipman, Square Eddie and Street Hero were also the
only horses in the field with grade one victories on synthetics. The other two
colts bet below 15-1, Munnings and Bushranger, had zero experience on non-
traditional dirt tracks and they finished 10th and 11th in the field of 12.

The public was right on in the Sprint backing Midnight Lute (5-2) after having
run just one race since last year's Breeders' Cup Sprint. The Bob Baffert-
trained champion was dead last after a quarter in 21 1/5, but easily stormed
to the top through the stretch.

Perhaps the most impressive performance of the day came from the second place
finisher, Fatal Bullet, bucking the bias by holding onto the second spot after
hitting the half in 43 4/5. But the son of Red Bullet had a huge factor
working in his favor: seven straight victories on synthetics. His lone three
defeats all came on either the real stuff or the turf and he was beaten a
combined 34 ?-lengths in those events.

Since the Pro-Ride surface resembles more of a turf course than traditional
dirt, the Europeans had a big edge when it came to the Classic. The winners of
most races across the continent usually come from off the pace, and the one
making the last and final move frequently gets the victory.

Not only did milers Raven's Pass and Henrythenavigator appreciate the added
distance, they finished first and second just because they made their winning
bids well after Colonel John and Curlin moved into contention.

To accentuate this point even further, Duke of Marmalade - the lowest priced
horse of the three European-based charges and the only one to have raced 10
panels - finished a well-beaten ninth only because he challenged the early
lead and faltered.

Also, who would have ever thought that Curlin would not just lose the Classic,
but be outrun by Tiago even after reaching the front with just one furlong to
go?

All in all, the eight Pro-Ride Breeders' Cup winners came into the weekend
with just 12 career races on traditional dirt. And one horse, Midnight Lute,
ran nine of the 12.

A new era of horse racing has begun, and now that the world knows how it
played out, the 2009 Breeders' Cup should be an extremely profitable one since
Santa Anita will once again be hosting the festivities.



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