Explaining ‘Main Track Only’ Horses, Evaluating Races Taken Off Turf

Horses race on a sloppy track at Saratoga on Travers weekend in this file photo. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Whenever I write a new column for America’s Best Racing, I always keep in mind my core horse racing audience: newcomers.

It is not enough for the industry to market to newcomers. It also must educate and nurture them so as to elevate this group into becoming regular fans.

A topic I am going to touch upon today is a good one for newcomers. It’s actually one that is too often ignored even by hardcore handicappers. It’s “main track only” (MTO) horses that draw into races that come off the turf.

At most racetracks east of the Mississippi River, grass racing is a regular racing staple. However, when it rains many times races are transferred to the main track. It is a safety precaution, as a wet grass course can get quite slippery so tracks practice safety first.

What the racing secretary at these tracks will do to plan for wet weather is accept entries on horses in grass races that will start only if the race is switched to the main track. These entrants are called “main track only” (MTO) horses.

To show how profitable this betting angle can be, let’s look at Race 4 from Saratoga on Wednesday, July 17. If you have access to the result chart and the past performances, even better to follow along with me.

Saratoga suffered a torrential downpour early in the day that forced all turf races onto a sloppy main track. If there were no MTO entrants, Race 4 would have been unbettable. By having four MTO horses, it saved the race from becoming a decimated field of three.

Instead, the field consisted of seven runners with four being MTOs. The post time favorite was a MTO horse #10 Flat Rate at 5-2 odds. The other three MTOs were #1A Jemography (7-2), #8 The Sicarii (14-1), and #9 True Blue Giant (13-1).

The eventual winner was #8 The Sicarii who paid a whopping $30.60. I say “whopping” because in off the turf races all of the MTOs should move way up in your handicapping.

Believe me that hardcore handicappers who overlooked The Sicarii are also gnashing their teeth.

The trainer of The Sicarii is Anthony Quartarolo. He and the other three MTO trainers had to play weatherman 72 hours out when the entries for Wednesday’s card were taken.

Quartarolo was praying for rain and he got it. Then to have the betting public allow the horse to go off as the biggest longshot in the race was quite frankly bad handicapping.

Bottom-line, when you see this scenario occur don’t get upset over all of the scratched horses. Focus on the MTOs. Hope to find a nice overlay like The Sicarii as the eventual race winner will most likely come from this group.

Richard Eng is the author of “Betting on Horse Racing for Dummies," an introductory book for newcomers to the sport of horse racing.  For two decades, he was the turf editor and handicapper for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He still handicaps the Southern California tracks and his picks are for sale at www.racedaylasvegas.com. You can email him at rich_eng@hotmail.com and follow him on Twitter @richeng4propick and on Facebook.com.

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