It is not your imagination. The numbers confirm Turfway Park
is the toughest track to bet in the U.S. and Canada.
Since the current meet began Nov. 30, favorites have been in
the money only 63 percent of the time, the fewest of the 28 tracks that have hosted
races in the last 3 1/2 months.
Click here for Turfway Park entries and results.
Turfway favorites have won only 30 percent of the time, second
only to Sam Houston’s 29 percent.
No one said betting races was supposed to be easy. For those
who find success at Turfway, though, it has been worth the pain. According to
Equibase, the suburban Cincinnati track has had an average payout of $14.98 on
winning $2 bets, 32 percent higher than all of the U.S. and Canada. At $13.61, Oaklawn ranks second, 9 percent lower than Turfway.
Is it the big fields? Turfway is the only track monitored by
Equibase to average at least 10 starters per race since the end of November. Is
it the Tapeta, that immeasurable variable, that has confounded bettors? The
answers to that are many.
|Turfway by the numbers*|
|10.0 Turfway Park||9.3 Woodbine||8.9 Oaklawn||7.7 national|
|Fewest winning faves|
|29.3% Sam Houston||30.0% Turfway Park||32.1% Gulfstream Park||37.0% national|
|Fewest in-money faves|
|63.1% Turfway Park||64.4% Woodbine||66.7% Penn National||72.4% national|
|Avg. $2 win pay-out|
|$14.98 Turfway Park||$13.61 Oaklawn||$11.23 Woodbine||$11.35 national|
|*Nov. 30-March 11|
|Compiled by Ed DeRosa|
Horse Racing Nation asked three people who have found
green in the oatmeal-colored racecourse for their advice on how to play Turfway.
Jay Davis, 36, a work-at-home internet marketer from the Cincinnati
suburb Anderson Township, Ohio, is a 13-year Turfway regular who plays the
track every night with an in-person trip at least every couple weeks.
Kevan Strom, 32, a full-time horseplayer from Schenectady,
N.Y., who has played Turfway regularly since 2012. He also frequently bets the
synthetic tracks at Gulfstream Park and Woodbine.
Paulo Lobo, 54, whose 21 wins through last week were
second only to Wesley Ward among trainers during the current meet.
From those conversations that originated at the track early
this month come 20 ways for horseplayers to frame their bets at Turfway Park.
1. Do not apply the usual rules for speed figures.
Strom: “The figures you take from other tracks are
not going to be accurate, synthetic-wise. … Once horses get a couple runs over
the surface, you have a better idea, and you can start betting the races more
accurately. It’s the first couple months in December and January where these
horses who have never run on ‘synth’ or coming back to the ‘synth’ where you
have to figure out the equation to translate the figures to what a synthetic surface
would be. TimeformUS, of all the speed-figure providers, does a great job with
it. I think their adjusted figures are the best. I still don’t think that
betting the highest figure in a race is the way to go. You still need to
handicap the race. If you’re looking just figure-wise to what translates best
to Tapeta surfaces, in my experiences especially at Woodbine and Turfway, it’s
2. Looking for a bias may be a waste of time.
Davis: “No. 1, the biggest tip I would say is I don’t
think that Turfway necessarily has too much of a bias whether that’s speed or
closers. I think it’s pretty different from race to race. When people are
calling out like, ‘Hey, it’s a speed bias tonight,’ or, ‘It’s a closer bias
tonight,’ I tend not to put too much faith into those details just because, in
my opinion, each race shapes up so differently that you can get completely
different outcomes. … The track plays pretty honest in my opinion.”
3. Running lines do translate to Tapeta.
Strom: “At the end of the day I think it’s just a
race. I first look for pace and then generally at the race. Is there lone
speed? Who are the attack horses? Who are the closers going to be? You have to
visualize the race in your head or on paper. You take the horses you think have
the most talent, regardless of where they are position-wise in the pace. That’s
different from the way most people handicap. They take the highest speed
figures and sprinkle in the favorite. The public has no idea what’s going on. (Turfway)
is a great opportunity with the large fields. That’s why these horizontals pay
so well and carry over so often. There are just so many combinations that can happen.”
4. Look carefully at who the trainers are.
Strom: “Paulo Lobo, that guy is amazing on the
synthetic and the turf. … There are synthetic specialists like Billy Morey and
Eric Foster. They translate well to the turf the rest of the year and not so
much the dirt.”
Davis: “I wouldn’t discount any of the what you would
call smaller-time trainers. Your Timmy Girtens, your John Ennises, your Jordan
Blairs. These guys are a tick or two off percentage-wise from some of the top
trainers like your Wesley Wards, your Brad Coxes, people like that.”
5. Certain jockeys are worth an extra look.
Davis: “You’ve got to obviously include (meet leaders)
Gerardo Corrales and Walter Rodríguez. Both of those guys have been hot since
the start of the meet. For me I’m also a big Declan Cannon fan. He’s getting
not necessarily the most live mounts, but he’s doing the most with the least. Declan
is kind of a standout. You can also look to a lot of the mid-tier guys, your (Joseph)
Ramoses, your (Luan) Machados, these guys can all win. They’re not necessarily
getting the same high-quality horses that some of the leading riders are. Those
guys are certainly upgrades for me when I see them in a race.”
6. Visiting jockeys are overrated.
Davis: “Jonathan Wong (Golden Gate Fields’ top
trainer) has been showing up this year, and he’s bringing over a few jocks, and
they’re getting bet. So the public is taking notice of that, too, but I don’t
think it’s as big a factor as most people might think. I’m looking for
consistency. A lot of these guys are not exactly used to how Turfway runs, what
kind of style, where you need to be on the turn, where you should be mid-pack
or on the front. These guys coming in from out of town, I think they’re
actually at a disadvantage. Personally, I’m looking for the riders who are
consistently here every night and know the track.”
7. Don’t lean hard on dirt and turf form.
Lobo: “I have some clients, especially with the grass
horses, we are giving a little time off and then try to prepare them with one
race here. We have a lot of dirt horses, too. I think both grass and dirt
horses, they run well here.”
8. Pacesetting turf winners merit attention.
Davis: “When it comes to frontrunners, if they can
wire a field somewhere coming from the turf, no matter which track it might be,
I tend to upgrade those quite a bit on the Tapeta. Any horses that can wire on
a turf circuit anywhere in the country, I will kind of give an upgrade,
especially if it’s in a sprint. I think that certainly helps their chances. The
other thing is that I look for horses that have maybe wired previously, whether
that’s on turf or dirt, and also in their prior races before that, let’s say
they can also stalk and sit just off. If you have a horse with a diverse style
where they can wire or sit just off, I think that’s a huge advantage when it
comes to Turfway.”
9. Certain stalkers and closers are attractive.
Davis: “I tend to look for horses that can pass, in
general, when it comes to Turfway. I think it’s a huge advantage both in the sprints
and the routes. Typically I’m looking for horses that can sit let’s say three
or four lengths off and then turn on that turn of foot and get to the wire from
10. ‘Drops for this’ works in many ways.
Davis: “I’m a huge class-dropping fan. If a horse is
coming in from an allowance or even a graded stakes, and they’re dropping in at
Turfway for the day, that’s a big upgrade for me.”
Strom: “I actually enjoy the lower-class races. I
find too often that the Brad Coxes of the world, the Mike Makers, the Wesley
Wards, they end up winning the higher-purse races at Turfway at shorter prices.
That’s not as big an opportunity as the low-level claimers, the maiden races,
the maiden-claiming races, even the optional-claiming allowance races. I really
enjoy the lower-level races, because I think that’s where the opportunity lies.”
11. Big allowance purses prevent premature jumps to
Lobo: “You need to see how the horses are, who are training
better at the distance for the condition of the races, then you put everything
in the puzzle and try to do your best. If a horse wins a maiden, your horse
goes to an allowance and first condition and second condition. Sometimes when a
really good horse shows up, especially at 2 years old and breaks the maiden,
you go to the stakes. But basically, it’s a path that you have to follow.”
12. Don’t ignore weather on all-weather track.
Strom: “Tapeta can be heavily weather-reliant if it’s
raining, if it’s cold, if it’s warm, if the sun has been beating on it all day
long. There’s different nuances to the way the track is going to play. … I
think the surface gets back to being fair after significant precipitation. When
you have a long, extended period of higher temperatures like a mild winter, the
track tends to settle, and it becomes faster, so speed holds better. If you see
a lone speed at kind of a higher price, and nobody’s going to go with it, if
the track has been warm for a couple days, the speed has a tendency to hold on
and maybe to win that race by a half-length or so. You might win at 15-1. It’s
worth looking at. But again, if you’re going to see a pressured pace, the track
can be as forward as you want. If there’s three horses setting 22 and 45
(seconds with fractions) in a route, nothing is going to carry those horses
Davis: “I’m not a huge bias guy, but I give a little
credence to the fact that I do think when it’s warmer, the speed does tend to
hold better vs. when it’s a little bit colder.”
13. Beware of the gale.
Strom: “You have to check the wind. I know people don’t
subscribe to that theory, but it’s real. If you have 20 mph wind that’s in the
horse’s face for the entire backstretch, that’s going to take its toll. I
subscribe to the draft theory where if horses are tucked in behind the lead
horse, they’re not exposed to that kind of resistance and won’t get as tired. Of
the hundreds of horse races a day, how many are won by a nose, a head, a neck?
All that little resistance adds up, and it could be the difference in an
outside closer or speed holding on the rail.”
14. Meets are different now that they are at night.
Davis: “Way more speed was holding during the daytime
for whatever reason that might be. The sun is out and it’s a little warmer. When
they were running there during the day, the speed did seem to hold there.”
15. 2020-21: Good-bye, Polytrack. Hello, Tapeta.
Strom: “It used to be a super-dead rail. You couldn’t
do anything within two or three paths of the rail. Everything was outside. Now it’s
a little bit more speed-favoring. Speed that clears and ends up on the rail is
not as bad as it used to be in the deep stretch. The horses looked like they
were running in quicksand, it would slow them down so much. That’s not the case
anymore. They really put a lot of work into making it more fair, and I think they
succeeded in that.”
16. The kickback is not insignificant.
Davis: “When they leave the gate, there is quite a
bit of kickback. I guess it just depends on the horse. Obviously, some of them
are not going to like that. But you can see it every race. If you’re four or
five lengths back from that field, it’s picking up pretty strong. I do try to
take notice of it. You’re really just trying to shape up the race from a pace
perspective to see who might be taking that kickback. What I’m looking for
there, let’s say if I’m wanting a closer that race or a stalker that race, I’m
hoping they’re on the outside where they can just kind of get away from that a
17. A return to form should not be a surprise.
Strom: “You know what happens in low-level races. A
horse runs back to form it did 18 months ago, and people were like, ‘Where the
heck did that come from?’ You have to put the work in. You have to look at all
of the last 10 run lines for that horse. You can’t just look at the last three.”
18. Be flexible as the meet wears on.
Strom: “I split the meet in half. You have December
and January when you have horses who have never run there before. The public
and the general betting population are unsure. It’s just a mystery, they’re
relying on those speed figures, and they’re just wrong. The second part of the
meet after the horses have run over the surface a little bit, it’s warmer, and
the track kind of flips to being more forward. You get horses like B G Warrior
wiring the field at 40-1 in (a February black-type stakes) because of their
long speed, so what worked in December and January no longer works. You need to
pivot, but people are stubborn. They rely on their methods, and they’re
unwilling to change the way they look at a race and handicap because, ‘This
worked for me for two months. Why should I change what I’m doing now?’ You need
to, because this surface changes.”
19. It is easy to relate to bettors frustrated with
Davis: “Absolutely, I can totally see why the public
might be ripping their hair out. I think one big factor to consider, especially
this year at Turfway, is that we’ve had a wildly inconsistent weather pattern
here. One day it’s freezing, and the next day it’s 70 degrees and sunny, so
that certainly affects it. … Even going just 24 hours day to day, that track
can play so differently. Of course, me included, I’m pulling my hair out as
well at times.”
20. You can run, but you can’t hide.
Strom: “Belmont is putting in a synthetic surface for
winter racing. Gulfstream just put in their synthetic surface to give the turf
a breather for the non-championship meet. It’s not going anywhere. It’s here to
stay. People need to learn how to handicap it. It’s a great opportunity. Woodbine
runs eight months a year, and then Turfway runs four months a year, so you have
synthetic racing year-round. That’s not even to mention part of the golden hour
with Golden Gate Fields out there in California. It’s not going anywhere. It’s
actually becoming more prevalent. It’s a tremendous opportunity, and I hope
people take the time to look at it, because I’m sure the purses would love to
go up, and the pools would love to go up. Right now it’s the great alternative
to the small, dirt fields at Santa Anita or Gulfstream Park. It’s really a
nice, little niche and a little break from all that.”