What to Remember as Racing Shifts to Different Tracks for Winter

Fans watch the racing action from the rail at Gulfstream Park. (Penelope P. Miller/America's Best Racing)

Now that your sumptuous Thanksgiving meal has been reduced to tasty leftovers, there’s no doubt that winter is on the horizon.

For racing, which is a year-round sport, the changing of seasons does not constitute an end as much as it does a passing a baton.

In recent weeks, Fair Grounds and Del Mar opened.

Before long, Aqueduct’s inner track will be open for business as will Turfway Park, and racing will soon shift from Gulfstream Park West to the actual Gulfstream Park in Hallandale, Fla.

What all of this means is that handicappers have to keep in mind that a horse’s form does not always shift from one track to another.

Just because a horse thrives on the main track at Aqueduct, it does not necessarily mean that same horse will continue to be a monster on the inner track, which can often be a paradise for inside speed.

The lesson is that when handicapping a new meet, checking a horse’s past form at that racetrack becomes more important than ever.

While there’s no guarantee that a return to a favorite track will pull a horse out of its doldrums, it does offer some hope that a horse can turn in an improved effort – sometimes at a very nice price on the toteboard.

Different tracks also card races at different distances, which can often explain an improved performance. For example, on Aqueduct’s main track, two turn races are contested at 1 1/8 miles. Meanwhile, on the inner track, there are two-turn mile and one mile and 70-yard races that – with some help from sharper turns – can allow a horse who tired and fell back to third at a mile and an eighth lead from start to finish at a shorter distance.

The same thing can apply at the end of next month when Santa Anita reopens. Horses who have been racing in five-furlong turf sprints at Del Mar will face a totally different challenge when they will have to race 6 ½ furlongs on the unique downhill turf course at “The Great Race Place.”

So, as you ponder a diet to deal with the extra pounds added during Thanksgiving, keep in mind, too, that what might be a sweet potato at one track might be a turkey at another.

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