A surface switch is the kind of angle that should cause a handicapper to take a long, second look at a horse.
Sometimes the switch could introduce the horse to a new and preferred surface.
Sometimes it can have no impact or lead to an even worse performance.
And sometimes it can deliver the kind of curveball that wakes up a horse and brings out the best in him.
For an example, let’s look at the fourth race at Gulfstream Park on March 15.
One of the horses in a small field of five that was being overlooked in the wagering was War Giant.
In his previous start, War Giant had returned from a five-month layoff and was switching from the dirt to turf. He set a quick pace but faltered and finished last in a field of 10.
When he returned a month later in the March 15 race, he was dropped in class by one of the circuit’s top trainers, Saffie Joseph Jr., and was shifted back to the dirt.
Interestingly, in six starts on the main track at Gulfstream Park, he won three times.
Plus, in War Giant’s past performances there were six workouts listed, all of them on dirt. Three of them were bullet workouts – meaning they were the fastest time of all the day’s works at that distance.
The works seem to indicate that War Giant would relish a return to the main track.
He also had a nice turn of early speed, a beneficial advantage in a small, five-horse field.
It seemed reasonable to believe that if War Giant ran back to his workouts and responded to the surface switch, he might be able to grab the early lead and control the early pace. After that, who knows what could happen?
At odds of 9.30-1, there were certainly reasons to like him.
In this case, War Giant did indeed rush out and grab a clear lead after the opening half-mile. After that he continued rolling along on the lead. Meanwhile, no one behind him was gathering momentum and War Giant coasted to a convincing 2 ½-length victory.
He paid $20.60 to win for a $2 win bet, a giant-sized payoff in a small field where a switch led to a completely different performance.