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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Monday, December 14, 2015 at 12:00 AM

TURF TRIP HANDICAPPING: MORE IMPORTANT THAN EVER AT GULFSTREAM

Ask any serious handicapper and bettor how much he or she weighs "Trip Handicapping" as part of their overall analysis protocol and if they are the kind of serious handicapper and bettor that makes money they will likely answer...heavily!

I'm sure the majority reading this are fully knowledgeable regarding what is meant by "Trip Handicapping" but for those just learning the game a brief explanation is as follows. Trip handicapping is the practice of watching and re-watching races in order to discover if and when a horse that otherwise was considered a solid contender was compromised by a "bad trip." The definition of a bad trip could be anything as obvious as being in a "bad" post position (meaning a starting gate position that has produced little success regardless of the quality of the horse) to an race ride problem such as being caught in traffic, getting bumped, away to a slow start at the gate or running wide on one or more turns among other obstacles.

Identifying a bad trip will not make every horse a winner in its next race based simply on the bad trip but such finite analysis can point out an otherwise overlooked horse in its present race if that horse has other positive angles to its advantage.

That being said, right now "Trip Handicapping" is ultra-important at Gulfstream Park. There are numerous reasons for making sure you watch and re-watch Gulfstream Turf races in particular:

One - Racing during the Gulfstream Championship meet, which runs through the end of March produces the largest and most competitive fields in the nation over that time period. Positioning with the fewest problems or clean trips are essential.

Two - Different distances are run over both the inner turf and outer turf courses with conditioners having the option of switching distances to accommodate what a runner has shown as preferential style in recent races.

Three - With weather as suddenly changeable as it is, Gulfstream more than any other track in the nation moves their inner rails as far as 108 feet out into the course, both narrowing the area on the turns and straightaways and fanning horses out or blocking them inside based on how they begin their races and what positioning they get. Many times a jockey will "anticipate" problems and either ask his horse to run too fast too early or reserve off the pace even if that is not what a horse likes to do.

Four - As we have seen early on in this meet, this placement of the inner rail is in an attempt to keep as much racing on turf as possible which means that there are many different surface designations to consider such as soft, yielding, good, firm with even those varying in qualification if the wide variation in times shown at the same distances by the same level of horse is any indication.

These are the key points, but there are also other subtleties that can be gleaned from "Trip Handicapping."

At this point the best way to reaffirm this point is to give you a few examples of turf races run early in the meet with a few brief comments.

Wednesday 12/9...Race 9 - CHANGE OF COMMAND
7.5 Furlongs. (Turf) OC 25000n1x
FOR 3-YO & UPWARD WHICH HAVE NEVER WON A RACE OTHER THAN MAIDEN, CLAIMING, STARTER OR RESTRICTED ALLOWANCE OR WHICH HAVE NEVER WON TWO RACES OR CLAIMING PRICE $25,000.

The veteran 8-year old gelding was making his first start since September 6 at Monmouth and because he was a 10 time winner from 38 career starts was racing for the 25K claiming tag. He broke slowly out of the gate from mid-pack in the crowded 12 horse field, was forced towards the rear and reserved until it was necessary to fan out wide leaving the turn for home. He ran on from 12th to 4th in less than a furlong and finish evenly while wide and beaten only a total of 1-3/4 lengths. A close look at his running style (always towards the front or on the lead at middle distance races) indicates the slow start compromised his chances completely. This trip (which had to help since it was also the first following a layoff) indicates that all he needs is a better break from the gate vs the same level next time.

Sunday 12/13...Race 4 - NEVELEE
1 1/16 Miles. (Turf) Alw 41000n1x
FOR FILLIES AND MARES 3-YO OLD & UPWARD WHICH HAVE NEVER WON A RACE OTHER THAN MAIDEN, CLAIMING, STARTER OR RESTRICTED ALLOWANCE OR WHICH HAVE NEVER WON TWO RACES.

Entering the race the 3-year old Maimonides filly had shown consistent enough versatility throughout her 9 race career, with a number of good efforts over the GP turf course that her 22-1 off odds in this race were a significant overlay. She was allow to settle off the pace on the backstretch over the "good" (and tiring) surface and was into the bit when asked by her jockey as they began to look for position on the far turn. But at a crucial point she was fanned 5 wide and lost considerable ground before her jockey allowed her to finish on her own terms and she did run on evenly through the lane and was only 3 lengths off the winner at the finish. It was a significant enough obstacle and at 22-1 in her last the public might disregard her when she runs back against the same. It is also worth noting that her jockey, Jose Caraballo, who wins at a 17% clip on the circuit was riding for the first time and will be more familiar with her should he ride back.

These are just a pair of samples as to what a trip handicapper will look for, but you can see how significant making the practiced a part of your analysis protocol can be.

For the top horses every race day from Gulfstream, Aqueduct and other major tracks, CLICK HERE to sign up for my Preferred Plays Service, or call 1-800-323-4453.

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Comments

Douglas Saturday, February 20, 2016 at 10:29 PM

What a difference a year makes. Trip handicapping has changed a great deal for the Gulfstream Park turf course from the 2014/2015 Champions Meet to the 2015/2016 Champions Meet. Through the spring and summer of 2015 the GP turf course was resurfaced. Resurfacing has allowed for better root health and better drainage but has ruined what I felt was the best racing on the planet. Resurfacing the course has taken away the organic matter just below the surface. The stuff that retained water and made for a softer turf course that was brutal on early speed. Last year horses on the turf course could not go two turns on the lead and win. The races were better bunched with almost the entire field in with a chance turning for home. This year after resurfacing, the GP turf course is just like every other race course out there. Races are often down to two horses at the top of the stretch. It is not the same - my stable mail watch list which covered several pages last year has been limited to only a couple runners this year. We need tighter, more competitive, more exciting racing to rebuild the sport. I have seen more merry-go-round races with fields strung-out from the top of the stretch to the finish line than I can stand. Lets make track surfaces softer and more taxing. Lets bring fields together. I can point to many, many tracks that are speed favoring but I can no longer point to a single track that favors the closer. It will take years for the GP turf course to return to the best racing surface on the planet, and when it does please don’t mess it up.

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