Turfway Tapeta: Experts offer 20 tips for confounded bettors

Turfway Tapeta: Experts offer 20 tips for confounded bettors
Photo: Ron Flatter

Florence, Ky.

It is not your imagination. The numbers confirm Turfway Park is the toughest track to bet in the U.S. and Canada.

Since the current meet began Nov. 30, favorites have been in the money only 63 percent of the time, the fewest of the 28 tracks that have hosted races in the last 3 1/2 months.

Click here for Turfway Park entries and results.

Turfway favorites have won only 30 percent of the time, second only to Sam Houston’s 29 percent.

No one said betting races was supposed to be easy. For those who find success at Turfway, though, it has been worth the pain. According to Equibase, the suburban Cincinnati track has had an average payout of $14.98 on winning $2 bets, 32 percent higher than all of the U.S. and Canada. At $13.61, Oaklawn ranks second, 9 percent lower than Turfway.

Is it the big fields? Turfway is the only track monitored by Equibase to average at least 10 starters per race since the end of November. Is it the Tapeta, that immeasurable variable, that has confounded bettors? The answers to that are many.

Turfway by the numbers*   
Average field   
10.0 Turfway Park9.3 Woodbine8.9 Oaklawn7.7 national
Fewest winning faves   
29.3% Sam Houston30.0% Turfway Park32.1% Gulfstream Park37.0% national
Fewest in-money faves   
63.1% Turfway Park64.4% Woodbine66.7% Penn National72.4% national
Avg. $2 win pay-out   
$14.98 Turfway Park$13.61 Oaklawn$11.23 Woodbine$11.35 national
*Nov. 30-March 11   
Source: Equibase   
Compiled by Ed DeRosa  

Horse Racing Nation asked three people who have found green in the oatmeal-colored racecourse for their advice on how to play Turfway. They are:

Jay Davis, 36, a work-at-home internet marketer from the Cincinnati suburb Anderson Township, Ohio, is a 13-year Turfway regular who plays the track every night with an in-person trip at least every couple weeks.

Kevan Strom, 32, a full-time horseplayer from Schenectady, N.Y., who has played Turfway regularly since 2012. He also frequently bets the synthetic tracks at Gulfstream Park and Woodbine.

Paulo Lobo, 54, whose 21 wins through last week were second only to Wesley Ward among trainers during the current meet.

From those conversations that originated at the track early this month come 20 ways for horseplayers to frame their bets at Turfway Park.

1. Do not apply the usual rules for speed figures.

Strom: “The figures you take from other tracks are not going to be accurate, synthetic-wise. … Once horses get a couple runs over the surface, you have a better idea, and you can start betting the races more accurately. It’s the first couple months in December and January where these horses who have never run on ‘synth’ or coming back to the ‘synth’ where you have to figure out the equation to translate the figures to what a synthetic surface would be. TimeformUS, of all the speed-figure providers, does a great job with it. I think their adjusted figures are the best. I still don’t think that betting the highest figure in a race is the way to go. You still need to handicap the race. If you’re looking just figure-wise to what translates best to Tapeta surfaces, in my experiences especially at Woodbine and Turfway, it’s Timeform."

2. Looking for a bias may be a waste of time.

Davis: “No. 1, the biggest tip I would say is I don’t think that Turfway necessarily has too much of a bias whether that’s speed or closers. I think it’s pretty different from race to race. When people are calling out like, ‘Hey, it’s a speed bias tonight,’ or, ‘It’s a closer bias tonight,’ I tend not to put too much faith into those details just because, in my opinion, each race shapes up so differently that you can get completely different outcomes. … The track plays pretty honest in my opinion.”

3. Running lines do translate to Tapeta.

Strom: “At the end of the day I think it’s just a race. I first look for pace and then generally at the race. Is there lone speed? Who are the attack horses? Who are the closers going to be? You have to visualize the race in your head or on paper. You take the horses you think have the most talent, regardless of where they are position-wise in the pace. That’s different from the way most people handicap. They take the highest speed figures and sprinkle in the favorite. The public has no idea what’s going on. (Turfway) is a great opportunity with the large fields. That’s why these horizontals pay so well and carry over so often. There are just so many combinations that can happen.”

4. Look carefully at who the trainers are.

Strom: “Paulo Lobo, that guy is amazing on the synthetic and the turf. … There are synthetic specialists like Billy Morey and Eric Foster. They translate well to the turf the rest of the year and not so much the dirt.”

Davis: “I wouldn’t discount any of the what you would call smaller-time trainers. Your Timmy Girtens, your John Ennises, your Jordan Blairs. These guys are a tick or two off percentage-wise from some of the top trainers like your Wesley Wards, your Brad Coxes, people like that.”

5. Certain jockeys are worth an extra look.

Davis: “You’ve got to obviously include (meet leaders) Gerardo Corrales and Walter Rodríguez. Both of those guys have been hot since the start of the meet. For me I’m also a big Declan Cannon fan. He’s getting not necessarily the most live mounts, but he’s doing the most with the least. Declan is kind of a standout. You can also look to a lot of the mid-tier guys, your (Joseph) Ramoses, your (Luan) Machados, these guys can all win. They’re not necessarily getting the same high-quality horses that some of the leading riders are. Those guys are certainly upgrades for me when I see them in a race.”

6. Visiting jockeys are overrated.

Davis: “Jonathan Wong (Golden Gate Fields’ top trainer) has been showing up this year, and he’s bringing over a few jocks, and they’re getting bet. So the public is taking notice of that, too, but I don’t think it’s as big a factor as most people might think. I’m looking for consistency. A lot of these guys are not exactly used to how Turfway runs, what kind of style, where you need to be on the turn, where you should be mid-pack or on the front. These guys coming in from out of town, I think they’re actually at a disadvantage. Personally, I’m looking for the riders who are consistently here every night and know the track.”

7. Don’t lean hard on dirt and turf form.

Lobo: “I have some clients, especially with the grass horses, we are giving a little time off and then try to prepare them with one race here. We have a lot of dirt horses, too. I think both grass and dirt horses, they run well here.”

8. Pacesetting turf winners merit attention.

Davis: “When it comes to frontrunners, if they can wire a field somewhere coming from the turf, no matter which track it might be, I tend to upgrade those quite a bit on the Tapeta. Any horses that can wire on a turf circuit anywhere in the country, I will kind of give an upgrade, especially if it’s in a sprint. I think that certainly helps their chances. The other thing is that I look for horses that have maybe wired previously, whether that’s on turf or dirt, and also in their prior races before that, let’s say they can also stalk and sit just off. If you have a horse with a diverse style where they can wire or sit just off, I think that’s a huge advantage when it comes to Turfway.”

9. Certain stalkers and closers are attractive.

Davis: “I tend to look for horses that can pass, in general, when it comes to Turfway. I think it’s a huge advantage both in the sprints and the routes. Typically I’m looking for horses that can sit let’s say three or four lengths off and then turn on that turn of foot and get to the wire from there.”

10. ‘Drops for this’ works in many ways.

Davis: “I’m a huge class-dropping fan. If a horse is coming in from an allowance or even a graded stakes, and they’re dropping in at Turfway for the day, that's a big upgrade for me.”

Strom: “I actually enjoy the lower-class races. I find too often that the Brad Coxes of the world, the Mike Makers, the Wesley Wards, they end up winning the higher-purse races at Turfway at shorter prices. That’s not as big an opportunity as the low-level claimers, the maiden races, the maiden-claiming races, even the optional-claiming allowance races. I really enjoy the lower-level races, because I think that’s where the opportunity lies.”

11. Big allowance purses prevent premature jumps to stakes.

Lobo: “You need to see how the horses are, who are training better at the distance for the condition of the races, then you put everything in the puzzle and try to do your best. If a horse wins a maiden, your horse goes to an allowance and first condition and second condition. Sometimes when a really good horse shows up, especially at 2 years old and breaks the maiden, you go to the stakes. But basically, it’s a path that you have to follow.”

12. Don’t ignore weather on all-weather track.

Strom: “Tapeta can be heavily weather-reliant if it’s raining, if it’s cold, if it’s warm, if the sun has been beating on it all day long. There’s different nuances to the way the track is going to play. … I think the surface gets back to being fair after significant precipitation. When you have a long, extended period of higher temperatures like a mild winter, the track tends to settle, and it becomes faster, so speed holds better. If you see a lone speed at kind of a higher price, and nobody’s going to go with it, if the track has been warm for a couple days, the speed has a tendency to hold on and maybe to win that race by a half-length or so. You might win at 15-1. It’s worth looking at. But again, if you’re going to see a pressured pace, the track can be as forward as you want. If there’s three horses setting 22 and 45 (seconds with fractions) in a route, nothing is going to carry those horses home.”

Davis: “I’m not a huge bias guy, but I give a little credence to the fact that I do think when it’s warmer, the speed does tend to hold better vs. when it's a little bit colder.”

13. Beware of the gale.

Strom: “You have to check the wind. I know people don’t subscribe to that theory, but it’s real. If you have 20 mph wind that’s in the horse’s face for the entire backstretch, that’s going to take its toll. I subscribe to the draft theory where if horses are tucked in behind the lead horse, they’re not exposed to that kind of resistance and won’t get as tired. Of the hundreds of horse races a day, how many are won by a nose, a head, a neck? All that little resistance adds up, and it could be the difference in an outside closer or speed holding on the rail.”

14. Meets are different now that they are at night.

Davis: “Way more speed was holding during the daytime for whatever reason that might be. The sun is out and it’s a little warmer. When they were running there during the day, the speed did seem to hold there.”

15. 2020-21: Good-bye, Polytrack. Hello, Tapeta.

Strom: “It used to be a super-dead rail. You couldn’t do anything within two or three paths of the rail. Everything was outside. Now it’s a little bit more speed-favoring. Speed that clears and ends up on the rail is not as bad as it used to be in the deep stretch. The horses looked like they were running in quicksand, it would slow them down so much. That’s not the case anymore. They really put a lot of work into making it more fair, and I think they succeeded in that.”

16. The kickback is not insignificant.

Davis: “When they leave the gate, there is quite a bit of kickback. I guess it just depends on the horse. Obviously, some of them are not going to like that. But you can see it every race. If you’re four or five lengths back from that field, it’s picking up pretty strong. I do try to take notice of it. You’re really just trying to shape up the race from a pace perspective to see who might be taking that kickback. What I’m looking for there, let’s say if I’m wanting a closer that race or a stalker that race, I'm hoping they’re on the outside where they can just kind of get away from that a little bit.”

17. A return to form should not be a surprise.

Strom: “You know what happens in low-level races. A horse runs back to form it did 18 months ago, and people were like, ‘Where the heck did that come from?’ You have to put the work in. You have to look at all of the last 10 run lines for that horse. You can’t just look at the last three.”

18. Be flexible as the meet wears on.

Strom: “I split the meet in half. You have December and January when you have horses who have never run there before. The public and the general betting population are unsure. It’s just a mystery, they’re relying on those speed figures, and they’re just wrong. The second part of the meet after the horses have run over the surface a little bit, it’s warmer, and the track kind of flips to being more forward. You get horses like B G Warrior wiring the field at 40-1 in (a February black-type stakes) because of their long speed, so what worked in December and January no longer works. You need to pivot, but people are stubborn. They rely on their methods, and they’re unwilling to change the way they look at a race and handicap because, ‘This worked for me for two months. Why should I change what I’m doing now?’ You need to, because this surface changes.”

19. It is easy to relate to bettors frustrated with Tapeta.

Davis: “Absolutely, I can totally see why the public might be ripping their hair out. I think one big factor to consider, especially this year at Turfway, is that we’ve had a wildly inconsistent weather pattern here. One day it’s freezing, and the next day it’s 70 degrees and sunny, so that certainly affects it. … Even going just 24 hours day to day, that track can play so differently. Of course, me included, I’m pulling my hair out as well at times.”

20. You can run, but you can’t hide.

Strom: “Belmont is putting in a synthetic surface for winter racing. Gulfstream just put in their synthetic surface to give the turf a breather for the non-championship meet. It’s not going anywhere. It’s here to stay. People need to learn how to handicap it. It’s a great opportunity. Woodbine runs eight months a year, and then Turfway runs four months a year, so you have synthetic racing year-round. That’s not even to mention part of the golden hour with Golden Gate Fields out there in California. It’s not going anywhere. It’s actually becoming more prevalent. It’s a tremendous opportunity, and I hope people take the time to look at it, because I’m sure the purses would love to go up, and the pools would love to go up. Right now it’s the great alternative to the small, dirt fields at Santa Anita or Gulfstream Park. It’s really a nice, little niche and a little break from all that.”

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