Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Red Mile—focus on ‘tunnel vision’

In Kentucky, no matter how you spin it, the thoroughbreds will always be the big equine stars of horseracing. But serious students of pari-mutuel play are aware that the “underground” for horseplayers in Kentucky is in Lexington on a magnificent mile track primarily presenting harness racing. Playing online is easy and informative (with our series of supportive blogs) when you do it with an account at TwinSpires.

Each year at The Red Mile, overnight racing is filled with delicious overlays and in autumn, along with the Grand Circuit's two-week meet, presenting Breeders Crown eligibles battling their way to the elims. It's the very best standardbreds of the season racing for big bucks and it can offer great value for the astute handicapper.  

This mile track (each harness race at the standard distance brings horses around the oval once) includes a terrific stretch, known for years as “the tunnel.” Few stretches on mile-long tracks have the reputation for upsets, as does this real estate. It is especially adored in the ranks of the overnight classes, but many a star favorite has also fallen in its wake.  

In general, sharp handicapping on Red Mile racing includes a focus on horses that normally race on the Midwest’s half- and five-eighths mile tracks in Ohio. Many of these horses (especially ones suffering from recent bad trips on the smaller tracks) seem to thrive on getting a comfortable grip on the dirt down the tunnel. Local horses may love their home track, but new faces wake up briskly on their first and second trips over this oval.  

Few horses, however, classy or not, can overcome any radical climate changes that can take place in the tunnel; these can weigh heavily on the outcome of a race. Each change benefits a different kind of racing styles.  

The track’s normal “fast” surface has no loyalty to inside or outside positions. Starting from anywhere, a clean, ground-saving trip is usually complemented by a fast tunnel journey. More times than not this kind of come-from-behind trip will down the pacesetter. Certainly, the second-over trip can often catapult a closer through the stretch. With the fast conditions of the tunnel on its side, the trip horse can leave the field gasping for air. 

Although tough speed duels can help a horse come from far behind, speed can hold up well on a fast track in the tunnel. Deep come-from-behind victories are rare when the track is under clear skies and dry.  

But you can see the tunnel’s bias change quickly, usually when rain falls and certainly based on how much of it pelts the surface. Oddly enough, speed can falter more quickly in sloppy going in the tunnel than it does on a fast track. Wire-to-wire wins can be accomplished in the early stages of rain, but pacesetters get bogged in the tunnel as the mud thickens the path to the finish line. The track is kept in fine shape no matter the weather conditions, so a bettor has to be a sharp weatherman as well as an astute handicapper.

The Grand Circuit's two-week stay at Lexington’s Red Mile begins Sept. 29. The Kentucky Futurity for glamour-boy trotters is on Oct. 2. The highlights of the second week are the $700,000 (est.) Tattersalls Pace for three-year-old colt pacers, as well as the Glen Garnsey Memorial for three-year-old filly pacers, Bluegrass stakes for soph-colt and filly trotters and International Stallion Stakes events for two-year-olds of both sexes and gaits.

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