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What We Have Here, is an Attempt To Communicate


Mark Patterson


Tue, Apr 19, 2016

On Tuesday, March 1, the mountain returns from its second annual winter break. The formerly year-round facility last season for the first time lopped January and February from its racing calendar, leaving a cultlike fan base in uncharted waters upon racing's resumption with no recent Mountaineer form to map wagers from.

Unlike hiatus -2010, however, spent on a sofa that came to feel like solitary confinement in Cool Hand Luke (Any man suckered in by a false favorite gets a night in the box.), I got my mind right over the past two months by retrieving a few turtles (Who REALLY eats reptile soup?) and shakin' the bush here, boss, in hopes that a useful trend or two from last year's first meet might fall out. Since that truncated stand consisted merely of March, I restricted the research to that month and did discover some potentially repeatable patterns. The major finding, perhaps not surprisingly, was that invading horses (broadly defined as having last started elsewhere) dramatically outdid local stock absent since the shutdown. The away team's impact value (percentage of winners divided by percentage of starters) of 1.2 towered over the meager .68 posted by Mnr horses making that first start back. But not always for the reason you might suspect.

Recent activity could not explain the victories of the 29 invading winners-from a total 97- showing the DRF layoff line, which denotes no start within 45 days. The psychology underlying this stat is easily followed: If you're aiming an animal on the grounds at Mnr's still-elongated season, there's little pressure-and it's probably ill-advised- to turn the crank tightly for the return race. Contrast that (at today's gas and lodging prices) with the expense and hardship of shipping as much as six hours, and the imperative to have a horse ready off the van becomes apparent.

One instance when a recent start does factor heavily is with runners up from Turfway. The locally reliable fake-to-dirt angle becomes even more potent when dead-fit poly-horses tie into comebackers prepared on conventional footing. Turfway intruders took down twice their statistical share of win purses during the first two weeks of March, a time frame in which few Mnr horses had benefit of prep. Attesting that a recent race provided significant advantage, 14 of those first 18 winners from Turfway had started within the previous five weeks. Flat-betting Turfway arrivals during the two weeks would have netted a 10% profit. Hawthorne horses proved even more formidable, if less numerous and more heavily bet. During the entire month of March, six of ten from that Illinois oval scored. All six went favored, largely negating the usefulness of this information.

In plentiful supply, horses shipped four hours from Beulah clicked at about their fair share posting 14 wins from 120 local debuts. Owing to several longshots, Beulah horses proved a near break-even proposition. The trainer to key on with those Columbus shippers was Steve Larue, who won with a trio of bonafide bombs, plus a 5-1 and 9-1 to boot. Only Tony Laneve and James Jackson, each with two, also managed multiple wins at double-digit odds.

The trainer factor figured strongly with intruders from the neighboring commonwealth. Ten from the thirteen that tallied had been transferred to local horsemen since last starting.

Backstretch buzz hints that invaders may again dominate the initial meet's early stages. While the mountain-main did stay open for training during downtime, and the elements weren't as ferocious as last year when record snowfall was recorded, no winter is easy to buck here when it comes to outside work, and most local outfits are said to have commenced conditioning less than three weeks (or so) ago.

Pay attention to Mountaineer-based trainers that did fare well at last year's corresponding meet. Scooter Davis led the standings with eight wins and brings considerable momentum from Charlestown, where he ranks third on the season and has scored with roughly one-fourth of his starters. Loren Cox, William Martin, and the aforementioned Steve Larue finished tied behind Davis with six wins apiece. Jay Bernardini, Doug Shanyfelt, and Doug Johnson each had five.

On the jockey front, conflicting rumors swirl concerning where DeShawn Parker, Mnr's dominant rider, will take his tack from a working vacation at Tampa. One story has last year's national win- titleist trying his hand in the heartland. More recent word puts him here for business as usual. Parker notched 39 wins to decimate the competition last March. Should DeShawn be absent, look for Oswald Pereira, said to be first off the bench with many of Parker's clients, and Terry Houghton, winner of some 4,500 races, to compete for honors.

People and ponies aside, fans jonesing for a Mountaineer fix likely realize that the surface itself can exert a strong pull on race results. That's especially true during tempestuous March, which wreaked havoc last season as the strip ran the full gamut of moisture content. Consequently, capricious path -trends characterized the meet. My notes indicate that distinct lane-biases took hold on seven -3 pro rail, 4 negative rail- of the first eight cards. So stay alert. And go easy on the hard boiled eggs.


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