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Horse Racing - Beware of the Surface Switch

Posted by Pete Mitchell on 4/26/2012 11:01:29 AM

Racebook betting

Some horses look like Secretariat on one racing surface, and resemble Mr. Ed on others (No offense to Mr. Ed, but Wilbur didn’t let him out much). It’s a rare thoroughbred who is equally adept on dirt, turf, and polytrack racing surfaces.  Speaking of the legendary Secretariat, his regular rider Ron Turcotte was quoted as saying that “Big Red” was even better on turf than on dirt. Even though Secretariat closed out his career with dominant grass wins in the Man O’ War Stakes and Canadian International Stakes, it’s hard to imagine him being any better than he was in the ’73 Belmont Stakes, which he won by a mind-boggling 31 lengths.

This past weekend, there were several striking examples of top horses switching surfaces. These surface switches presented juicy betting opportunities to those who did their homework. The first example took place in Saturday’s Man O’ War Stakes at Belmont Park. 2007 Champ Curlin was trying turf for the first time against a salty group of grass specialists. Please refer to my last two articles on this website to gain an appreciation for the difficulty of Curlin’s task. He is without question the top thoroughbred in the game when racing on dirt, but as Saturday’s race revealed, he isn’t quite as good on grass. The slight drop-off in performance cost him the Man O’ War, and provided a significant betting opportunity for those who fancied Red Rocks’ chances in that contest.

The other race that stands out is the Prince of Wales Stakes, which took place Sunday at Fort Erie. In this second leg of Canada’s Triple Crown, Queen’s Plate winner Not Bourbon was made the post-time favorite at 1.10-1. The trouble was, he had never raced on dirt…all 10 of his prior starts had been on Woodbine’s polytrack. Second choice in the wagering was Stronach Stables’ Harlem Rocker, a smashing winner of the Withers Stakes on Aqueduct’s main dirt track two back, but a disappointing fourth last out in the Plate Trial on…you guessed it…Woodbine’s polytrack. The surface switch told the tale, as Harlem Rocker won by 1 ¼ lengths in a driving finish, while Not Bourbon tired in the stretch to wind up next-to-last in the 7-horse field.

It’s not always this simple, but sometimes your best approach is to back horses that have proven themselves in certain situations, and remain skeptical of those who are trying something for the first time…especially at a short price.

Pete Mitchell has been handicapping horses since his teenage years. He has been a professional horse player for many years, and came to’s attention through multiple referrals from industry insiders/sportsbook owners. Pete is revered for his horse handicapping opinion and industry experts acknowledge his impressive career winning record. Thoughts or questions?



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