• Bogus Bias

    POSTED Jan 23, 2014
    John F. Kennedy once said that too often we “enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.”

    Clearly, President Kennedy was talking about track biases. For few other subjects evoke as much hyperbole and outright nonsense than the notion of a track bias, a term popularized by Steve Davidowitz in “Betting Thoroughbreds.”

    According to Davidowitz, “Every racetrack has its peculiarities. Some are small in circumference, some have pasteboard-hard running surfaces, some card races that place a premium on early speed or post position.

    “And nothing can help to change or create a bias as effectively as a shift in weather conditions. A sudden rainstorm is odds-on to force a premium on early speed. On the other hand, a few days of rain, a sudden frost, or extreme heat can have totally unpredictable effects.”

    In order to spot a track bias, Davidowitz advises players to do four things:

    1. Watch the turns.
    2. Watch the break from the gate.
    3. Watch the run to the first turn (especially in route races).
    4. Watch the top jockeys.

    If this is not possible, Davidowitz adds that a “careful reading” of the results charts can also lead to the discovery of a track bias.

    Given this ambiguity, it is easy to see why “track bias” has become the modern-day equivalent of “cry wolf.” Tell people to search for something, especially something hard to define, and, by golly, they’ll find it!

    In fact, I got a chuckle out of the reactions to an article written by Daily Racing Form columnist Mike Watchmaker entitled “Talking Track Bias,” in which Watchmaker dared to say there was no speed bias on Belmont Stakes Day this past June.

    Those commenting on the piece couldn’t seem to agree on what a speed bias is, much less whether or not one existed:

    “Mr. Watchmaker fails to mention days when speed wins almost every race and other days where a front runner can't [find] the winner’s circle. This holds true for turf courses as well and, in both cases, certain racetracks are conformed and constituted in such a way as to favor a particular type of runner. … One of the reasons this wonderful sport has not caught on as well with later generations is the repetitive sight of wire-to-wire winners.”

    “… Go watch where all the winning closers came from, at least 5 to 6 lanes out. Watch how many horses two lanes in were getting caught.”

    “Yes, there was a bias. Orb's trainer said as much when he compared the surfaces between Churchill and Belmont. One was like a springboard, the other was looser and sandier.”

    “Bias is such a big and important topic that it may be worth writing a book about. Right off the bat most people confuse rail bias with speed bias. A hot rail is caused by track maintenance moving dirt away from the rail in anticipation of bad weather (because they can't grade a muddy track, and the rain, due to the slope of the track, will gradually move dirt from the outside to the inside). The thinner surface at the rail makes it fast. Usually people call this a speed bias, because the horses up front have the inside path, but a closer can win on it just as easily.”

    “Most of [the] horses that closed were horses with speed except, I believe, one race — if my memory is correct.”

    “You have to know if horses are holding on much deeper into races than you thought they had a right to if everything was equal, or that horses aren’t making the late moves you figured they should have.”

    “There was something a little different about Belmont on Saturday. I initially picked Golden Soul on top, but after watching three dirt races, you can see that front runners and stalkers were holding on all the way to the end. Closers weren't even plodding up for show money.”

    Well, that’s as clear as mud. So maybe the track was biased on Belmont Stakes Day, maybe it wasn’t — kind of like how I “may have won” a million dollars from Publisher’s Clearing House?

    Of course, I've heard the same gobbledygook from those who believed that Princess of Sylmar was done in by a “speed-favoring” track at Santa Anita in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff.

    (Click on image to enlarge)

    The fact that Princess of Sylmar was beaten by a whopping 16 ¼ lengths in the Distaff is overlooked by the bias boosters. The fact that Royal Delta, the champion mare “Princess” edged in the Beldame, was actually closer to the pace than Beholder in the Distaff? Summarily dismissed.

    Instead, those who cry bias point to Goldencents, the impressive winner of the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.

    A Facebook friend of mine summed up the feelings I know many share regarding the speedy colt when he noted that Goldencents’ triumph on Breeders’ Cup Day “made perfect sense, but not after being hung out wide and running a savage pace.

    “Yet he kept going. The track carried him. Even if he tired a bit despite the bias it would have [been] understandable after that pace and trip. When he came back on a honest track, he could not duplicate that huge race.”

    True, in the Cigar Mile 29 days later, Goldencents finished a well-beaten seventh. However, that’s not the whole story. What my friend didn’t say is that Goldencents was bumped hard at the break of that race and, consequently, was third at the opening call.

    (Click on image to enlarge)

    This is of no small consequence, as Goldencents has never won when he’s been worse than second at the first call. In fact, the son of Into Mischief is 0-for-4 in such instances. He is 2-for-4 when running second at the opening call and 3-for-5 when leading.

    Bias? I think not.

    Something tells me JFK would agree with me.

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