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Handicapping Turf Races

Betting Turf Races

 Turf racing is more popular than ever in North America. Some of the recent superstars of racing have been grass runners: the great Frankel from England, Wise Dan and today, Tepin is one of the world’s top horses.

During the summer and fall meetings of most tracks there are a considerable number of grass races on each afternoon and at Woodbine, the grass course is unique in its shape but also world famous.
Just as any racing surface, there are horses who adore racing on the grass and others who would prefer dirt or synthetic dirt.

And handicapping a turf race involves a different ap­proach than if you were tackling a race on the main (Polytrack or dirt) track. The emphasis on most turf racing is on class, stamina and fin­ishing kick: many turf races are run very slow early and then fast late so you are looking for a horse that closed ground into a quick, late pace in their most recent race.

Here are some overall, key factors to consider: 

Class vs. Speed (Figures)

If you are a Beyer Speed Figure or other figures player, you may not want to put all your money simply on the horses with the best ‘numbers’. Since speed figures are made, in part, by projecting the speed of the surface the horse races on, the fact that there are not as many turf races each day as there are main track races means that the true speed of the surface cannot be known from such a small sample.

Instead, look at what class the horse has been racing at and note any horses dropping one or two class levels or even subtle drops from starter allowance events to claiming races.

The lowest class level in grass racing at most tracks is higher than that for the main track. In other words, if some trainers want to try their $8,000 claiming horse on grass, they may have to race for $20,000 or higher.

Grass races tend to lure horses from overseas also, and in England, Ireland or France, the racing is mostly all on turf. Therefore, Group 1, 2 and 3 races are a bit stronger than the N.A. counterparts.
If there is a horse or horses in a race who one or two turf attempts and the Beyer Figures they earned are considerably higher than what they have posted on other surfaces, it is a good idea to give the horse another look. Sometimes a horse may show that he likes the grass but for weather reasons or lack of races, the horse does not get too many chances to run on the surface.

One example shown here is that of Gran Bid, an Ontario gelding who discovered grass racing in  August 2014, coming to life in a pair of grass outings at Fort Erie.

It was more than a year later when the gelding was back on the turf again, this time against better horses at Woodbine but also with form that suggested he had improved throughout the year.

Once he got a chance to compete on grass against the result was a 48 to 1 upset win. His past performance chart, coutresy Daily Racing Form, is below: 

Will my horse like turf?

 A field full of horses trying the grass for the first time is a daunting task for any bettor. A large percentage of Thoroughbreds have some type of grass influence in their pedigree. It is the more immediate family members that play the biggest role in whether a horse is bred to love the surface.

Daily Racing Form offers the horse’s pedigree but delving into the breeding a bit more closely is needed. That is where the DRF’s A CLOSER LOOK comments (found underneath each horse) can come in handy. Not all tracks have “Closer Looks” but those that do supply information on the sire and dam and offspring with regards to grass records. If you get a chance to take a look at your favourite horse up close, look for the big, round and flat foot that is a definite indicator of a horse who is going to love the green stuff.

The shape of the course

 Another aspect of grass racing to consider is the placement of the portable rails, or ‘dogs’, whenever there is turf racing. On the occasions when the rails are removed from the inside of the track, to Lane 4 or 5, you will find that speed holds up better. If there are no portable rails, the course plays more fair to closers. You can find out what lane the rails are in on the overnight entries at and it is also reported in the day’s changes at the track or at
At Woodbine, since the E.P Taylor course is a 1 ½ mile configuration around the main track, some route races are around one turn and the 1440-yard stretch run is the longest in racing in N.A.

The long stretch run can often fool horse and rider since a move to the lead on the turn for home is sometimes a premature bid and ends up in that horse getting caught by the wire.

You may see horses who do well on the tighter grass courses of the United States, using that “slingshot” and quick turn of foot move around the turn to make the move into the stretch. These same horses sometimes do not have the same success on the wider and longer Woodbine course.

The good, the yielding and the soft

The weather can play an important role in grass racing as a very dry grass course (“firm”) is the favourite condition of some horses while others like some “give”, also called a “cut in the ground”. The latter condition occurs when enough rain makes the grass anywhere from being listed as “good”, close to firm, to “yielding”, which is getting close to soft or “soft”, a deep, tough grass course and more like a bog.

Check out a horse’s recent record on the grass to see how they have fared on various types of turf conditions.
The fall championship races are almost here and Woodbine major events for the remainder of the 2016 season will be held on the grass. Good luck in using these tips in your handicapping.

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