Commentary

They're almost off

Updated: November 6, 2009, 9:20 PM ET
By Jay Cronley | Special to ESPN.com

Today's track condition: Frizzy.

Here's the call of the first race: "The horses are in the gate. And, they're almost off."

Such are some of the elements to racing on synthetics, where jocks need to carry extra lint rollers instead of a second set of goggles.

As another Breeders' Cup to be raced over product approaches — and horse players are bound by tradition and breeding to bet each and every BC contest — it's time to get as serious as is possible about handicapping races run across the stuff. As the guy operating the cement milk bottle game at the Fair says, there's a winner every time; trouble is, many times, it's them.

I've been watching a number of races over the mixture for you. Here's what we'll be looking at, Breeders' Cup day in the City of Artificial Surfaces, both human and earthy, LA.

Handicapping races run on synthetics is a little like your first trip to the track. There are questions aplenty: What's bangers and mash? What's up with all the accents? Where did all the ascots come from? Why aren't the horses running faster?

The second Breeders' Cup to be raced on the non-perishables at Santa Anita will have a marked European influence. Whereas the British don't waste the good language on food — pass the bubbles and squeak please — the European style of race-calling elevates the sport by seeming to feminize the routine, by glamorizing the ordinary, by calling a surge on the backstretch "a lovely move." The British style of horse-race announcing can be almost too subtle and conversational: "Oh, by the way, there went your winner, the bloke on the three."

Bubbles and squeak is leftovers, some kind of vegetable stew mix-up.

The typical race over the materials begins slowly, almost like a steeplechase over the hedges. A lack of pace over the track-in-a-box comes as a result of a synthetic's tendency to tire horses exerting early energy. You run a mile and change over a miniature golf layout and tell me how you feel.

Runs over the product have been compared to turf races. And the racing style of rating toward mid-pack before making one late swooping rush fits the classic turf strategy. While solitary stalkers drafting in the second or third spots frequently win, most victors seem to emerge from mid-pack.

As is the case with turf races of all distances, you will need to be clear and long gone to win on the lead; an uncontested 15-length turning for home can on certain layouts be competitive.

One thing the handicapper has to handle with a grain of healing bath salts is the fraction, the time required to run a portion of the race. Over the stuff, pokey fractions are next to meaningless. Your horse is six lengths off a 1:16? Perfect! Horses routinely close from the boondocks against slow fractions. That's because most fractions are slow.

The European style of race riding is sometimes reminiscent of Travolta in Urban Cowboy. Some European riders treat the irons something like gymnastic rings at the Olympics. When it comes to wagering, a race over the concoction simplifies matters.

Forget exactas and trifectas.

Focus on wins, places, shows, pick 3's, 4's and 6's.

Over the artificial surfaces, correctly picking a simple winner is plenty exotic.

To summarize the Cup: It may take a while to get to the wire. There will be theatrics. Action will emerge from bunches. Strategy is hard to understand.

Just like soccer.

Write to Jay at jaycronley@yahoo.com.