JC / Railbird

Synth to Dirt, No Problem

A little breakfast time research yields this nugget:

Of the 460 nominees to the Triple Crown, 61 have made the switch from a synthetic surface to a fast dirt track. Of those, 47 improved or replicated their synthetic form on dirt.

Details in this Google doc. Only horses who raced primarily on synthetics at the start of their careers and who switched from such a surface to a fast dirt track are included (so horses whose single dirt starts were over the Monmouth slop of the 2007 Breeders’ Cup are not represented). Also, I made no distinctions between synthetic surfaces and didn’t consider class or distance changes. Generally, results were marked positive (P) if a horse showed an improved BSF and/or finish position, negative (N) if the opposite, and consistent (C) if it ran +/- 3 BSF and/or showed similar placing.

The odds are good that the California synthetic surface form of Colonel John and Bob Black Jack will hold up at Churchill.

Related: Andrew Beyer rants:

But in the 3-year-old stakes races that precede the Kentucky Derby, the presence of synthetic tracks has not merely complicated the game. It has made rational handicapping judgments almost impossible.

Not really. Synthetics are different, but not inexplicable.


Colonel John, Tiznow, stout, scares the bejesus outta me.

Posted by Ernie Munick on April 15, 2008 @ 12:29 pm

I’ve been going on these premises for all synths. I have no data to back ANY of this up and I’m a VERY casual player. Just my observations and betting successes.

– No 2 synths are the same. Poly @ KEE, TP, DMR seems different than the cushion of HOL or whatever got laid down at SA. For some reason I can’t wrap my head around HOL & SA even though, to the naked eye, they play more dirt than the turf-y poly. Treat poly as 3rd surface.

– I’ve found that KEE this meet is either playing more fairly than the last couple of meets or that I’ve adjusted to the way the track plays. Probably a mixture of both.

– Willing to move up cheaper looking horses who’ve accomplished *something* on POLY vs better. (a good way to fill out bottom of exotics at nice prices).

– Willing to move up horses who’ve shown good turf form going first time poly (long only) and will look at turf tomlinsons of 2 or 3 YO first time poly (only) starters.

– Willing to toss first time dirt starters after only being on poly. (and reverse is true too. Cool Coal Man stuck out like a soar thumb after not even getting a poly work). This isn’t any revelation and isn’t just synth to dirt. Many tracks – OP and TAM come to mind where first time over the dirt at these tracks is a disadvantage.

I think in the case of the Derby, for the above reason alone, the hurdles for Col. John & BBJ are NOT insignificant – breeding be damned. Works on the CD surface or not – both will be giving away something that others in the field have already done, in addition to all the other factors that ALL these horses will experience for the first time, that factor is HUGE, IMHO in this race ONLY.

If it was a 10 horse ALWn1x, I would appoach differently.

Synthetics are different and they sure have had some unexplainable results.

Posted by o_crunk on April 15, 2008 @ 12:30 pm

Sorry, Jessica. I’ve got to agree with my esteemed compadre Andy on this one. In the past, we knew Keeneland’s dirt largely favored speed and handicapped accordingly. There is simply no way we can divine the meaning of Pyro’s Blue Grass performance, other than to watch him gallop the week leading up to the Derby. That speaks to the gallops, not the race result, which, essentially, renders it meaningless. If Gayego hadn’t traveled to Arkansas, we might have mostly remained in the dark on the California form. Why? Because it was achieved on a surface with no correlation to dirt tracks around the country. I have more faith in horses that appear to have dirt pedigrees transferring their synethetic form to dirt than I do in my judgment of isolated synthetic form. The Beyer numbers, long held as wonderful barometers of race speed, have been woeful this spring for 3-year-olds, particularly on the synthetics. But I have contended for weeks that the California form is the strongest for this division, and it took Gayego’s journey to prove it. So, then, why are the numbers low for horses (Colonel John) that clearly appear to be more talented than their equally poor performing bretheren on dirt? And what to make of Adriano, who looked mighty in the Lanes End at Turfway but spit up a fur ball of a 92 Beyer winning? I can toss his Fountain of Youth, but can we safely consider him a viable Derby contender? One more thing: If veteran experts such as Beyer (and maybe ourselves) look at races on synthetics and believe they are bizarre, they probably are. In route races on many synthetics, particularly at Keeneland, which appears ruined, fast horses are no longer rewarded for their speed. I don’t know why, but the jockeys recognize it and ride accordingly. If a horse’s preferred style is to get out and run and the racing surface and jockey are inhibiting it, do we not have a problem on our hands? One of the hardest hitting and sharpest horesplayers I know, the other Andy, called yesterday and said he was done playing Keeneland synthetic races. There is no such thing as handicapping them. I like the Californians, but for many of the others, we can only throw darts blindly. Here’s a blind throw: Cowboy Cal ran bang-up against the biases. — John S.

Posted by John S. on April 15, 2008 @ 12:35 pm

How is divining the meaning of Pyro’s Blue Grass on Polytrack any different than figuring out what went wrong with War Pass in the Tampa Bay Derby on conventional dirt?

Posted by EJXD2 on April 15, 2008 @ 4:03 pm

what did you divine oh holier than thou one from sinister minister exactly?

Posted by Patrick on April 15, 2008 @ 4:50 pm

Y’know, that Sinister Minister thing is a perfect example. Off the top of my head I think that race got a 115 beyer and that was tops for the derby trail at that time. But it was such an obvious throw out, as John S. notes.

Beyers are just tools. A car is a tool too, you can use it to drive to the supermarket or you can drive it into a tree.

Beyers aren’t very useful in these poly races. How possibly were they even giving these racing Beyers in 2006 when KEE switched? Always wondered that. And SA – the way that track has played this meet from world records going down to 10 wide at the top of the stretch – good luck divining a speed figure from that!

I take the beyers with a grain of salt on these surfaces. The same way I would throw out a cheap maiden claimer coming back to dirt after running a career high beyer on the turf but still being soundly beaten. Just like Jessica’s spreadsheet in this post – there isn’t much that you can say about the data. It’s totally inconclusive. Just find better tools. So yes, if you’re going by beyers you’re going to have a tough time making any rational judgments about these preps.

Posted by o_crunk on April 15, 2008 @ 10:51 pm