The holiday season is at hand, a new year is around the corner and in some parts of the country turf racing has gone on hiatus until the days when talk about the Kentucky Derby reaches a fever pitch.
What that means is that turf runners in an area such as New York will travel south to Florida to enjoy the greener grounds at Gulfstream Park or head to a farm for a few months of rest while awaiting the return of spring.
Others, though, will continue racing on a different surface, switching to dirt races on the main track – which should put handicappers on alert to be extra careful when they weigh a turf horse’s past races on dirt.
While a turf horse might have turned in some seemingly good efforts on dirt in the past, those races might deserve an asterisk.
For example, if a turf runner appears in a race on Aqueduct’s inner track, for the most part that horse will be facing horses who prefer to race on dirt.
That’s something which did not necessarily happen in that turf horse’s previous tries on dirt.
The key element here is that those dirt races in which a turf runner finished third or fourth might have been in grass races that were washed off the turf course and moved to the main track. While one or two main-track-only starters (horses who can run only if the race is switched to the dirt main track) might have been in that race, the majority of the runners are overmatched turf horses out for exercise or simply hoping to take home a small portion of the purse.
But now, in December, those turf horses are running in races carded for the main track and filled with horses that have turned in their best efforts on dirt. Inherently that means the turf runners might find tougher competition in those races as opposed to an off-the-turf race and struggle in them.
What to watch for here is a symbol that a turf runner’s dirt race was an off-the-turf contest which is listed in Daily Racing Form past performances as a circle with an “X” inside it.
If that’s the dirt race in which a horse ran a distant third, it’s fair to believe that third-place finish might translate into a fifth- or sixth-place finish in a race originally carded for the main track.
And that’s the dirt on that!