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Polytrack Racing Surfaces - Exhale

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Some Poly Good News

January 19, 2007

We’re still in the early stages of the synthetic racetrack revolution in North America. But the anecdotal evidence from trainers has been overwhelmingly positive and vet bills are said to be much lower for horses training over these new surfaces. The cold hard numbers are equally encouraging so far.

All the race meetings conducted over Polytrack (Keeneland, Turfway Park and Woodbine) or Cushion Track (Hollywood Park) had average field sizes that were well in excess of the overall 2005 North American average of 8.2 starters per race. Bettors responded accordingly and all four tracks experienced handle growth from corresponding 2005 dates.

The Thoroughbred Times reported some other interesting figures from the 2006 Keeneland Fall meeting, numbers that may, in the long run, provide racing with its greatest benefit.

The average margin of victory at the meet was 1.63 lengths, much tighter than the 2.9 and 3.86 average margins at the previous two fall sessions run over conventional dirt tracks. The average distance between race winners and last place finishers also shrunk by around 13 lengths in 2006 when compared with ‘05. In other words, the synthetic surfaces (Polytrack at least) seem to be yielding more competitive and dramatic contests.

Listening to woulda, coulda, shoulda stories might get old for seasoned bettors, but for newcomers near misses, or extra-exciting close wins, might be the difference between coming back to the races or not. It’s already been a plus that Polytrack and Cushion Track have reduced the chance of fans witnessing heart wrenching fatal breakdowns. But now it appears that racetracks can offer a more compelling and exciting product by switching to these new surfaces.

By the end of 2007 Del Mar, Santa Anita and Golden Gate will all have installed synthetic surfaces and we’ll be able to get a better read on these promising trends

Waiting for Exhale

The first graded races for three year-olds were run last weekend and Hard Spun looked like a serious Classics contender after his facile win in the G3 Lecomte at The Fair Grounds. In California, Notional looked solid in winning the G2 San Rafael at Santa Anita. I still have my doubts about this son of In Excess (out of French Deputy mare) handling a mile and a quarter, but his two best performances have now come on traditional dirt surfaces.

Notional looked even better after the third race on Monday’s Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday card at Santa Anita. In that contest, Exhale looked liked the real deal with a powerful win over fellow maidens. He had made only one prior start, a second place run to Notional at the Oak Tree meeting last October.

Exhale has made money for everyone who’s had their hands on him so far. He was bred on an $8,500 stud fee, sold for $72,000 as a weanling in November of 2004, sold again in July of ‘05 for $100,000, and then realized $800,000 at the 2006 Calder February Two Year-Old in Training sale. Only time will tell if he’ll be a good investment for his current owners C R K Stables, but he’s off to an extremely promising start. We’ll get a better idea where he belongs after the March 3 Robert B. Lewis (formerly the Santa Catalina).

Exhale’s sire, 2001 Blue Grass winner Millennium Wind, has an interesting connection to the Kentucky Derby. He was the record third Derby starter produced by the Drone mare Bali Babe. Her first Derby contestant, Tossofthecoin, ran dead last in Sea Hero’s 1993 Derby, but her second starter fared quite a bit better, ’99 Derby winner Charismatic.

The feature at Santa Anita on MLK day was the G2 Santa Ynez for sophomore fillies and the winner, Jump On In, looks like she may be Kentucky Oaks material. She has yet to try two turns, but displayed and impressive turn of foot in the seven furlong race.

No matter what happens this spring she’s already been a boon to her sire, 2001 Saratoga Special winner Jump Start. A few days after the Santa Ynez, Overbrook Farm doubled the service fee to $20,000 for their young A. P. Indy stallion. Jump On In is the second stakes winner and first graded winner for her sire, who finished 8th on the 2006 first crop sire standings.

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Matt O'Neil has been a racing enthusiast since the mid-1980's. He is a freelance writer and thoroughbred marketing consultant and editor of the breeding journal Owner-Breeder International. Contact Matt O'Neil

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