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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Tuesday, December 1, 2015 at 12:00 AM

Aqueduct Inner Dirt Track Has Its Benefit

Here is how you know when winter racing has arrived on the New York Circuit. It is the day you look out at the Aqueduct ovals from the grandstand or clubhouse. Or more likely from your TV, I-Pad, Phone or Computer screen (only a foreign species inhabits the BIG A on track facility during the winter months) and you need to look "inside" the main track oval to find the place where the horses are running…the Inner Dirt Track.

Without this INNER DIRT TRACK, here the surfaced is made up of a combination of sand, clay and chemicals which prevents it from freezing, there would be no winter racing in New York. In fact, decades ago, before science made for year-round racing out on the bitter and blustery tarmac there was a train that ran from New York down to Maryland and the now defunct Bowie Race Course during the inclement months. A train that more than once was halted and suspended on tracks where the horses did not run by snowstorms. But those stories are for another time.

PLAY SPEED OR WAIT IT OUT DURING THE OPENING DAYS

If you ask most analysts for a few hints as to patterns that might exist over the unique INNER DIRT TRACK at Aqueduct and regardless how the formula is constructed, there is one word that will be universally included…SPEED.

While this is for the most part true, it is of particularly true during the opening days of the meet.

The primary explanation as to why horses that are one dimensional speed horses have an advantage is that the construct of the INNER DIRT TRACK leaves few avenues for a horse that does not break on or close to the leader during the first two points of call to recover.

There is no "chute" as there is at Belmont or on the Aqueduct Main Track. By this we mean that a straightaway that extends past the point where the clubhouse turn bends on to the backstretch and is extended on a straightway that moves away from that turn. In this way at Belmont for instance, while 6 and 7 furlong races begin on the backstretch mile to mile and an eighth races are started "in the chute" and run "straight away" onto the backstretch.

Because there is no chute on the INNER DIRT TRACK the 5 ½ and 6 furlong races start on the backstretch. There are no 6 ½, 7 or 7 ½ furlong dirt races and races run at a mile, a mile and seventy yards and a mile and a sixteenth are run around two turns. In addition one mile and one mile seventy yard races begin right before the clubhouse turn. There is little opportunity for outside horses without speed to do anything but move towards the rail when possible and hope to move up on the backstretch or far turn.

CONSIDER THIS DURING PRE-CHRISTMAS INNER DIRT RACING

With the idea that speed might play a significant part during the early days of the INNER DIRT TRACK (which begins the week of 12/9) it is worth looking back at the first six days (prior to the Christmas break) during the 2014 season.

Keep in mind that the INNER DIRT TRACK is a dramatic change for many horses, some love it and others never learn to handle it. Given this, it is important to consider two things. One, look for horses that have shown in the past an ability to be on or near the lead early in their races, regardless of the distance. Two, do not be overly concerned with how or where horses finished in their most recent tries.

SPEED IS AT A PREMIUM

During the first six days of the 2014 INNER DIRT MEET there was a total of 54 races. Charting where the winner of the race was at the second point of call in each race, regardless of being run at one turn or two turns or at any particular distance we can easily see why speed is at a premium. By rounding off to the nearest ½ length we discover that at the second point of call…

20 of the 54 winners were on the lead…37%
7 were from a head to a half length off the lead…13%
5 were 1 length off the lead…9%
8 were 1 ½ lengths off the lead…15%
4 were 2 lengths off the lead…7%
2 were 2 ½ lengths off the lead…4%
2 were 3 lengths off the lead…4%
6 were between 3 ½ and 6 ½ lengths off the lead…11%

LAST OUT FINISHES SHOWED MIXED RESULTS

As was mentioned above, because of the switch in surfaced and configuration, last out results were at best mixed. Regarding the horse's last race prior to winning the 54 races broke down as follows…

6 were first time starters.
9 were last out winners.
7 were last out second place finishers.
9 were last out third placed finishers.
23 were last out off-the-board finishers.
This is very close to what you would expect based on year-round averages on the New York Circuit.

WINNING FAVORITES ALSO NEAR NEW YORK AND NATIONAL AVERAGES

It is also worth mentioning that there were 21 winning favorites in the 54 races in question. That amounts to a 38.8% success rate, which is within the high and low median of the norm.

These final few stats are not in any way significant on their own but seeing that they fall within expected percentages it only shines a brighter light on the importance of demanding EARLY SPEED during the EARLY DAYS of the AQUEDUCT INNER DIRT MEET.

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