A neat way to start an argument among handicappers is to say there’s a “track bias.” Immediately, you’ll no doubt find agreement in some corners and then hear from others who insist it’s just an exaggeration.
And in many cases, there certainly is room for debate. Most days do not feature a card in which all nine horses win in front-running fashion or nine favorites falter while racing on the lead.
In those instances, there’s a rather obvious track bias that can help a handicapper in a two-fold manner. It can point out a winner of the next race on the card, or it can impact your opinion when the horses who are aided or hurt by the bias race again.
Most times a bias is much more subtle, but combining what’s been happening in earlier races with the right odds can sometimes produce a profitable wager.
As an example, let’s look at last week’s Friday Breeders’ Cup card at Churchill Downs. A case could be made that the main track was kind to speed.
Two of the three turf races were captured by speed horses, but that’s a different surface.
In the first five dirt races, two of the winners won in gate-to-wire fashion. That’s not a huge percentage, but neither of those horses was favored or figured to win. They went off at 14-1 and 5-1. In two of the other three races, the early leader finished second and third.
One of the speed horses was Complexity, who won the Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park on the front end. He was the second choice in the wagering, so why not add one more speedster to the mix to spice up the potential payoff?
If you did, then Knicks Go seemed to fit the bill. Unlike some other horses in the field (including Complexity), Knicks Go had already won at the 1 1/16-mile distance while on the lead. He was coming off a smashing 5 ½-length victory in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland at 70-1 odds.
In the Juvenile, he was 40-1, and if you believed the track bias was helpful to speed horses, boxing him the exacta or triple with Game Winner and Complexity made sense. So did wagering $2 across the board to hedge your bet.
As it turned out, Knicks Go did not win. Game Winner was too tough. But after Complexity set the early pace and then faded in his first try around two turns, it was Knicks Go who took over the lead and battled Game Winner rather gamely in the stretch.
Knicks Go held on for second and completed a $113.20 exacta. He also paid $21.40 to place and $11.60 to show in paying off rather handsomely for his backers.
True, he lost, but when you are betting 40-1 shots, coming close can be rewarding, too, and in this case having a hunch about a track bias and taking a gamble on a longshot definitely triggered a nice return.