By Dick Powell
Fair Grounds Race Course opens for its 146th racing season on Saturday with a 3 p.m. (CT) post time. The historic racetrack in New Orleans has lights because they are needed in the morning for training since the meet is held when the daylight is the shortest and they will be used for most of Saturday’s races.
The next day of racing will be Thanksgiving Thursday which has its normal 11 a.m. post time to get everybody fed while watching and betting races on one of the season’s biggest days of live business.
Betting on Fair Grounds is both challenging and rewarding. If you try to helicopter into the meet and only bet certain days, it’s very difficult. There are trends and factors that only reveal themselves to those who follow it consistently. I am not advocating betting every race on every day but follow the races as much as possible through charts and videos.
The biggest thing bettors get wrong about the Fair Grounds is they think that the long homestretch helps deep closers get up in time. The opposite is true as speed dominates dirt sprints year in and year out. If you have the lead turning for home, you might have to wait a few extra seconds but you are in great shape no matter how far down the stretch the finish line is.
Last season, in 70 dirt sprints going 5 ½ furlongs, 34% of them were won going gate to wire and they had a speed bias of 70%. The average distance the winner was behind at the first call was 1.9 lengths.
In 221 dirt sprints going 6 furlongs, 36% of them were won going gate to wire and they had a speed bias of 66%. The average distance the winner was behind at the first call was 2.0 lengths.
There is no chute on the dirt at the Fair Grounds so the next distance I have is the commonly-run 1 mile and 70 yards. There were 78 of these two-turn dirt races run last season and 35% of them were won going gate to wire and the speed bias was 67%. The average distance the winner was behind at the first call was 2.2 lengths.
The turf racing at the Fair Grounds is a different story. The sand-based Stall-Wilson turf course is not kind to speed no matter what the course condition or position of the temporary rail. In the most commonly-run distance, only 22% of the 5 ½-furlong turf sprints were won going gate to wire and the speed bias was 43%. The average distance the winner was behind at the first call was 3.1 lengths.
At one mile on the turf course, there were 98 races run last season and 19% were won going gate to wire and the speed bias was 41%. The average distance the winner was behind at the first call was 3.6 lengths.
At 1 1/16 miles on the turf course, there were 58 races run last season and 19% were won going gate to wire and the speed bias was 41%. The average distance the winner was behind at the first call was 3.8 lengths.
This stark difference in winning run styles on both surfaces creates pari-mutuel opportunity since most of the betting public are not aware of it.
Last season, Florent Geroux dominated the jockey standings with 98 winners from 337 mounts for a terrific 29% strike rate. He was far ahead of Robby Albarado, who had 61 and Mitch Murrill’s 60 wins.
Geroux was a picture of consistency winning 45 of 162 turf rides for a 28% strike rate and 53 wins in 175 dirt rides for a 30% strike rate. Albarado wins 14% on the dirt but 21% on the turf which surprised me.
If you are up early in the morning in New Orleans or just coming home from a late night, try to go out in the morning to watch training. Last season, for instance, you would have had the pleasure to watch Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) winner GUN RUNNER (Candy Ride) or Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) winner FOREVER UNBRIDLED (Unbridled’s Song).