August has Saratoga.
October, and April, too, for that matter, has Keeneland.
Nestled in the scenic countryside of Lexington, Ky., Keeneland offers one racing’s purest pleasures.
Yet as picturesque as the racetrack and its surroundings may be, Keeneland also provides a challenging test for handicappers.
With its synthetic Polytrack main surface, Keeneland offers a racing surface 180 degrees removed from Saratoga’s main dirt track. For that reason, as much as it might seem logical that horses who excel at a showcase meet like Saratoga would shine at a premier circuit such as Keeneland, too, handicappers must remember to compare apples to apples and oranges to oranges.
Simply because a horse won a high level race on Saratoga’s main track, there’s no reason to expect another triumph at Keeneland in a similar race. That’s apples and oranges, folks.
A handicapper analyzing a Polytrack race at Keeneland should first check a horse’s past performances to see if it has ever raced at the track and how it fared. Past success at Keeneland is a huge factor in assessing a horse’s chances there.
After that, efforts over any type of synthetic surface should be considered. While there’s a difference between Polytrack and another synthetic surface, such as the Tapeta Footings surface at Presque Isle Downs, the two are much more closely related than Polytrack and dirt.
Finally, in the absence of synthetic track form, turf races are a suitable Plan C.
In many cases, a horse with a string of solid efforts on grass can continue that positive form cycle on a synthetic surface.
If you have doubts, just flash back to the 2008 Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), which was contested at the time on a synthetic Pro-Ride surface at Santa Anita. On that day, the mighty Curlin could do better than finish fourth behind the victorious Raven’s Pass and the runner-up Henrythenavigator, a pair of Europeans accustomed to racing on grass.
A year later, again on Santa Anita’s artificial surface, the second-place finisher behind the fabulous Zenyatta was Gio Ponti, who was best known for his races on turf. The third horse under the wire that year was another European, Twice Over.
Those may be famous examples, but the same principles can apply on an average Thursday afternoon in Lexington. All main tracks are not the same, and if you’re looking for winners on Keeneland’s Polytrack surface then don’t focus too long on dirt form at Saratoga or Belmont Park.
If anything, don’t be surprised if a horse flops on dirt in New York and then runs like a champ at Lexington – at very nice odds to boot.
Keeping your oranges and apples separated can be very rewarding sometimes, especially at Keeneland.