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Falling For Hawthorne

DAK’s Diary for Tuesday, September 19, 2006

For Tuesday, September 19, 2006

By Joe Kristufek

Handicapping horse races is a challenge like no other. Our job is to figure out which horses fit the race conditions and are ready to put in a peak effort. Then we must attempt to visualize the pace scenario and decide which horses will benefit, or be compromised, by the way the race should be run. Once we feel like we’ve zeroed in on the contenders, we must now make our selections off the wagering menu and construct tickets that maximize our potential to win.

Astute handicappers to follow one or two circuits religiously have a distinct advantage over those who don’t, and being aware of some simple facts at the beginning of the meet can prove to be quite advantageous.

Many of the horses are the same, but that doesn't mean that those who perform well at Arlington will carry that success over to Hawthorne. They are two different racetracks. Arlington is a nine-furlong main track with a mile chute, whereas Hawthorne is one mile in circumference. This means that horses that have been racing a mile at Arlington, and competing around one-turn, will now be asked to negotiate two-turns to cover the Hawthorne trip of a mile and seventy yards.

Horses who race well over Arlington's one-turn mile, which is basically an elongated sprint, may not enjoy Hawthorne's two-turn experience nearly as much. Likewise, horses that struggle at the one-turn trip and aren't very aggressive in the early stages of a race, often show more when competing over a true route around a pair of bends.  Hawthorne's surface is deeper and more taxing than Arlington's.

Pay attention to a horse’s career record at Hawthorne. If they’ve raced well here in the past they already have a proven affinity for the surface, and must be given additional respect.

Horses with outside posts in two-turn dirt races at Hawthorne do not fair well. With a short run into the first turn in races run over 1 mile and 70 yards, horses with outside posts are often hung out to dry.

Turf racing at the two ovals is slightly different as well. Arlington has a big sweeping turf course, with five lanes, that is a mile in circumference. The Hawthorne turf course is seven-eighths of a mile long, and while there is a portable rail that is occasionally utilized, Hawthorne turf racing is pretty much uniform. Most turf races are also run at exact distances, instead of about distances. The turns on Hawthorne's grass course are much tighter, and when dry and hard, it can definitely favor speed.

On either surface, selecting and wagering on horses based solely on their performances at Arlington is like falling into a death trap. Using tennis as an example – Roger Federer is virtually unbeatable on grass, but he can be had on clay. Be prepared for horses to improve or decline in their new surroundings, and always search for value.

Early Observations:

  • The first two days of the meet (9-15 and 9-16), the rail was the place to be, but the main track appeared to level out a bit on Sunday, with several winners rallying on the outside. Pay attention to potential track biases. Having a handle on how the track is playing/played on a particular day can not only help you cash tickets that afternoon, but into the future as well.
  • Tom Tomillo has 55 horses on the backstretch, and 17 of them started the first three days (17-2-3-5). No other trainer has started more than six horses (Mike Reavis). 20 trainers have already won at least one race.
  • With four wins apiece, Eddie Razo Jr. and Jose Ferrer lead all Hawthorne jockeys, while six-time Hawthorne champ Chris Emigh is off to a bit of a slow start (2 for 17). Ferrer is riding a lot for Tomillo, and if he stays the entire meet, he could give Emigh a run for his money.
  • Keep a close eye on Ramsey Zimmerman. He’s ridden only seven horses so far, but two of them were longshot winners (75-1 and 12-1). He’s a hungry and very talented jockey who is eager to make an impression and to get his career back on track.

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