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Polytrack a positive step forward
Michael Lee
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
A look back on the first year of racing over the Polytrack course at Kranji has more than reaffirmed its positioning as a fair and competitive alternative surface to the turf track.

Useful statistics such as winning barrier positions, track bias and trainers’ and jockeys’ strike rates compiled from the 359 races held since its launch on October 4, 2008 all point to a “punter-friendly” synthetic track.

Its winning favourite strike rate of 29%, which is well within the accepted global norm of 30%, certainly attests to that.

But perhaps of greater significance from a competitive perspective are the track bias readings and barrier statistics, and how they measure up against turf readings.

The results were compelling. Not only did winners come through from all positions, both in the barriers and in the running, but the readings were almost on par with turf readings over the same period of time, certainly putting Polytrack in good stead as the “next best thing” to grass.

For example, 55% of runners in first, second or third spot (on-pacers) at the 400m ended up as winners on Polytrack, which compares well with turf’s 50%. The now-defunct Fibresand, which the Polytrack replaced, then showed 79% based on the same one-year period, an indication of clear leader bias.

Backmarkers are not to be ruled out on Polytrack, with a sound 15% of winners having come from a rearward position, a nod to the purported fact it throws less “kickback”, which means horses are less hesitant to race close together.

However, the reading is still not as high as 21% for turf, but is by far better than Fibresand’s very low 2%. Track bias remains a tricky issue, though, with other factors like track tightness and camber also coming into play.

Finishes were as tight as those on turf as well. The average beaten margin between the winner and the fourth horse was 3.84 lengths for Polytrack and only 0.5 lengths shorter for turf. Fibresand races conversely averaged 5.18 lengths.

While the general belief tends to favour horses drawn on the inside for sprint races, the results for Polytrack seem to give every runner an even chance no matter where it breaks from.

For example, out of 10 possible alleys – 1 to 10 and above – the winners have been coming from across the board at virtually equal strike rates in both sprint and longer races. 7% of horses drawn in marble one won in a Polytrack sprint race, but 10% drawn in six, or 11% drawn in 9, were just as successful.

Turf readings display a similar pattern, but gallopers drawn out on turf actually fared worse from gate No 9 as only 6% won.

Similarly over staying races, 10% of horses drawn in gate No 1 won, 6% drawn in six, and 9% drawn in 9, got up, though the turf readings for outside barriers were better at 11% and 10% for barriers 6 and 9 respectively.

Fibresand again showed skewed readings with gates 1 and 2 providing 36% of the winners between them, meaning one in ever three runners won jumping from either barrier No 1 or 2.

Most Kranji trainers have adapted fairly well to the Polytrack since its introduction, with only three trainers still waiting to open their accounts.

At the top of the heap, South African Patrick Shaw boasts the highest success rate. From 191 runners thus far, 37 have won and 86 finished in the placings giving him a win and place strike rate of 19% and 45% respectively.

Desmond Koh is next best with Polytrack gallopers, with 29 wins and 80 placings from 241 runners. Other notable performers are Michael Freedman and Douglas Dragon, who despite saddling fewer runners, score high strike rates on 16% and 14% respectively.

Shaw’s fellow South African and stable jockey Robbie Fradd is unsurprisingly also the punters’ pal in Polytrack races. He has booted home 34 winners and 74 placings from 162 rides for a strike rate of 21%, a percentage he shares with Olivier Doleuze, though the latter rode only for a limited time in August when the turf track was closed for resurfacing.

John Powell and Saimee Jumaat are the other leading hoops with a sound Polytrack record, making up the leading trio with 32 wins and 30 wins respectively.

In terms of breeding, the leading sire of Polytrack winners is Stravinsky, mainly through the deeds of Tuxedo Moon, who alone snared five of the nine wins attributed to his progeny. Argentinian stallion Pure Prize scored the highest strike rate on 40%, mainly through the eight wins racked up by Dr Lemon (3), Renixus (2), Prinzio (2) and British Navy (1).

Polytrack has been a boon to horses, trainers, jockeys and owners alike, and with 29% of favourites hitting the line first, punters’ pockets won’t be hurt either. With such high scores achieved at only its first year, Polytrack is in for the long run in Singapore.

Copyright 2009 Singapore Turf Club