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.