Deciphering Track Biases, Part 2

August 14th, 2018

Predicting Track Biases in Horse Racing

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could predict when track biases will appear and wager accordingly, yielding impressive profits while simultaneous gaining some bragging rights?

Perhaps it sounds far-fetched, but truthfully, it’s not as hard as it sounds. We already discussed last week how to capitalize on a bias in the weeks that follow its appearance; now we’ll delve into the grand possibilities that can arise if you correctly predict beforehand when a track bias will appear.

In essence, it comes down to this—some racetracks frequently produce the same bias under certain circumstances.

If you study enough races at a given track and take note of the relevant weather conditions, you might start to notice trends that recur in predictable fashion.

A great example comes from Churchill Downs, the home of the Kentucky Derby. When Churchill Downs gets hit with heavy rain and the track is sealed and sloppy, you can usually count on the rail being the fastest part of the track. With this in mind, I get excited when I see rain in the forecast for major racing days at Churchill Downs, since I know that horses running along the rail will likely have an advantage. The only tricky part is determining which horses will receive favorable ground-saving trips.

However, even that task proved to be relatively simple when I handicapped the 2010 Kentucky Derby. The track was sloppy and sealed, and one of my top choices in the race—Super Saver, runner-up in the Arkansas Derby (gr. I)—was already proven in such conditions, having won a maiden race at Belmont Park the year before over a rain-soaked track. The talented colt had also won the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (gr. II) at Churchill Downs, and from every perspective he seemed like a major contender in the Derby.

Even better, Super Saver was scheduled to be ridden by a jockey nicknamed “Bo-Rail” thanks to his rail-skimming rides at Churchill Downs. Borel had won two previous Derbies by saving ground and rallying boldly up the inside, and with Super Saver breaking from post position four, Borel figured to employ similar tactics in the 2010 Derby.

As it turned out, the sloppy-track rail bias was less pronounced than usual on 2010 Derby Day, and horses repeatedly won on the outside throughout the afternoon. But nor was there anything wrong with the rail, as Borel and Super Saver demonstrated impressively by saving ground and rallying to win by 2 ½ lengths at odds of 8-1, generating an $18.00 payoff for every $2 win bet. The 12-1 shot Paddy O’Prado likewise rode the rail throughout to finish third.

Need any more proof of how a wet racing surface at Churchill Downs can favor inside runners?

Just think back to the number of horses that have ridden the rail over sloppy tracks to win or hit the board in recent Kentucky Derbies. Remember Audible at 7-1 in 2018? Or Lookin at Lee at 33-1 in 2017? Who can forget the longshot Golden Soul finishing second at 34-1 in 2013, with fellow rail-skimmer Revolutionary third at 6-1?

Or, you can think back to Derby Day in 2009, when virtually every winner raced along the inside over the sloppy, sealed main track. That included the seemingly impossible 50-1 longshot Mine That Bird… who was ridden by none other than Calvin Borel!