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By HorseplayerNOW.com Night School host Joe Kristufek

Based in Chicago, Arlington and Hawthorne are my “home” tracks.

Hawthorne maintains traditional dirt, but in 2007, Arlington switched over to a synthetic “Polytrack” surface.

Turfway was the first to introduce Polytrack in the fall of 2005, and Keeneland, Arlington, Del Mar, Hollywood, Woodbine, Turfway, Golden Gate, Presque Isle and even Meydan in Dubai are “major” track who currently utilize a synthetic surface. 

Attached to that change in surface was a long list of new challenges for the horseplayer. We needed to familiarize ourselves with what kinds of horses would take to the new track, and how it would play. There has been a learning curve, but over time, shrewd horseplayers now understand how to attack the synthetics racing game.

Night School, the racing industry's national online fan education program, addresses synthetic surfaces from a handicapping perspective in tonight’s 90-minute, interactive session, which will kick off at 8:30 p.m. (ET). The session will be hosted by Horse Player NOW’s Jeremy Plonk, Caton Bredar and me. In addition, ace handicappers Brian W. Spencer and James Dickson, also of Horse Player NOW, join me on video for a roundtable discussion of synthetic surface handicapping as well.

Dickson specializes in the synthetic surfaces on the West Coast at Del Mar and Hollywood Park, and Spencer is in tune with Arlington and Keeneland.

As a BONUS, those who attend Night School through the live or archived sessions this week will be able to download my FREE list of “Superior Synthetic Surface Sires”. The link will be provided within the Night School chat.

Set a reminder and join FREE horse racing Night School fan education here.

Because of its man-made composition and high tech drainage system, synthetic tracks do not get “sloppy”, regardless of the amount of rainfall. Turf horses transition well to synthetics, so even the races that are forced off the grass often remain intact. Fuller fields mean more possible combinations in the exotic wagers which equates to higher potential payoffs, which is an advantage to the horseplayer. 

Here are some synthetics observations, recommendations and potential angles to consider:

  • Polytrack is similar to a turf course in that it’s much easier to get solid footing over the ground, therefore horses who race well on grass often transition positively to a synthetic surface.
  • When synthetic tracks get wet, they get tighter and faster.
  • There are horses for courses. Now that synthetic surfaces have been in use for a few seasons, we have a better handle of their success level over these sorts of tracks. 
  • It’s difficult for a horse to make a wide, sweeping move on the turn for home and win. Much like it is on turf, an inside, pocket trip can be quite advantageous.
  • It doesn’t seem nearly as important for a horse to switch from their left to right lead in the stretch. They seem to carry on better on the wrong lead than they do on a traditional dirt track.
  • Horses seem to rebound following poor synthetics efforts. Do not evaluate horses chances based on their most recent start alone, but instead strongly consider what they have shown themselves to be capable of in all their appearances over the track.
  • A heavily bet favorite who has never run on a synthetic track is almost certainly worth playing against. The fact that they are a monster on dirt certainly doesn’t mean that form will transition.
  • Take advantage of the PolyCapping database offered on several track websites. Powered by Equibase, this database is updated overnight and is available for viewing each morning through the previous day's races It offers detailed race information on the synthetic track winners, including position at key junctures of the race, last start information and much more. The PolyCapping database is easy to use because it is sortable, downloadable, and it allows handicappers to chose the criteria he or she thinks is important.

Don’t forget, the Night School Tour will kick off a fall series of appearances this Saturday when the traveling troupe of fan educators conducts live seminars all day at the America’s Best Racing 101 fan hub tent at Santa Anita Park. Jill Byrne, Tim Brannan, Brandi Goode and myself will be on hand, educating fans, on what is being billed as “Breeders' Cup Preview Day at Santa Anita.

The Night School Tour will be on two fronts the following week, including a three-day stop at Keeneland for another Racing 101 Tent, presented by America's Best Racing, on Oct. 5, 6 and 7. Also next weekend, the Tour hits Laurel Park for the Oct. 6 Maryland Million day program with Jeremy Plonk and Brian Nadeau.

Presenting title sponsors for Night School are the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, American Quarter Horse Association, Keeneland, Churchill Downs, Inc. and Daily Racing Form. Tuesday's session will be the 34th of 40 Night School lesson plans throughout the 2012 season, which continues through November.

This week's Night School will be followed by another "After Night School Special," featuring live racing from Mountaineer Park, beginning at 10:00 p.m. (ET). The segment will cover the evening's final race in real time with free, live-streaming video and complimentary Daily Racing Form past performances.

This week's Night School preview video with Joe Kristufek and Jeremy Plonk:

This week's study materials, courtesy of Horse Player NOW and Daily Racing Form, can be found here.

 

 

Image Description

Joe Kristufek

The face of ABR's "Racing 101", Joe Kristufek is a self-proclaimed horse racing "ambassador," and fan development has been his passion since the moment he took his first job in the industry.

Beginning in spring of 2014, Kristufek will serve as the paddock host and as a fan development specialist for Churchill Downs.

Kristufek is the morning-line maker for Arlington Park and Kentucky Downs and he serves as the handicapper and racing writer for the Daily Herald newspaper. 

Kristufek has developed and executed several horse racing-related, fan-education projects both online and onsite and he is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters. 

He has co-owned five horses in partnership and is the process of developing an ownership group of his own. Kristufek is also becoming an increasing presence on the tournament scene. 

Kristufek was the on-air talent for Hawthorne's between-race presentation and replay shows in the 1990s, and served as a on-air host and content coordinator for The Racing Network in 2000-2001. He was the owner, producer and host of popular horse racing magazine show Horsin' Around TV, airing 85 episodes from 2003-2005 on Fox Sports Chicago and Comcast SportsNet Chicago.

A beer and indie/alternative music snob, Joe is a Chicago Bulls season ticket holder and there aren't too many people who can keep up with him on a billards table. 

 

Image Description

Joe Kristufek

The face of ABR's "Racing 101", Joe Kristufek is a self-proclaimed horse racing "ambassador," and fan development has been his passion since the moment he took his first job in the industry.

Beginning in spring of 2014, Kristufek will serve as the paddock host and as a fan development specialist for Churchill Downs.

Kristufek is the morning-line maker for Arlington Park and Kentucky Downs and he serves as the handicapper and racing writer for the Daily Herald newspaper. 

Kristufek has developed and executed several horse racing-related, fan-education projects both online and onsite and he is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters. 

He has co-owned five horses in partnership and is the process of developing an ownership group of his own. Kristufek is also becoming an increasing presence on the tournament scene. 

Kristufek was the on-air talent for Hawthorne's between-race presentation and replay shows in the 1990s, and served as a on-air host and content coordinator for The Racing Network in 2000-2001. He was the owner, producer and host of popular horse racing magazine show Horsin' Around TV, airing 85 episodes from 2003-2005 on Fox Sports Chicago and Comcast SportsNet Chicago.

A beer and indie/alternative music snob, Joe is a Chicago Bulls season ticket holder and there aren't too many people who can keep up with him on a billards table. 

 

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