Buzzworthy: Why the rail is extra treacherous at WEG

by Garnet Barnsdale

The innermost post is a coveted advantage that quite often makes the difference on most tracks. Most, that is, except for the two Woodbine Entertainment Group (WEG) ovals – Mohawk and Woodbine racetracks.

In past years, the disadvantage of starting from the #1 post position has been more pronounced at Woodbine due to the sharp far turn that the gate rolls off just prior to letting the horses go. Recently at Mohawk, though, it has become near impossible to win when starting next to the pylons.

In the 51 races contested from last Thursday, May 11 to the end of last night’s card, there were 51 starters that left from the pole, and none of those 51 got their picture taken. Only four starters managed to finish second and five came in third. That is an in-the-money percentage of less than 18 per cent!

Only 16 winners have left from the one-hole in 214 races, for an average of 7.5 per cent. That record in futility makes it the second worst post at the track, with only the 10-hole at 4.3 per cent having a worse strike rate. It’s even worse if you are betting a trotter that draws post one. They have only hit the wire first three times in 62 starts (4.8 per cent).

So, what gives with the inside post and what makes it so difficult to win from there?

“It’s hard to leave from there,” said leading driver Louis-Philippe Roy. “When you leave, you usually end up third or fourth and if you want a shot at winning, you have to move first-up. So, you have used your horse to leave and then you use him again first up; that’s hard. Post one in my mind is a good post for a closer. The best posts for horses that can leave a little bit are probably four, five and six.”

Driver James Macdonald explains why it’s tough to leave out of the one hole. “When you come off the turn (before the start), you get jammed up, then the gate takes off.”

WEG veteran teamster Chris Christoforou has a slightly different take on why it is so hard to win from the inside. “They resurfaced the track last week,” he said. “Since then, the rail has been very loose and cuppy. It’s already a disadvantage in the first race and as the races go through the night, it gets much worse. For some reason, they don’t add material a little at a time, it’s just dumped on all at once.

The Golden Greek then throws bettors a bone. “If handicapping, I would expect this trend to last another two-to-three weeks at least. I hope this helps some handicappers out there.”

Many closers have been running into trouble when starting from the rail, too. A case in point is Electric Western (see video above), who closed as the 2-1 second choice in race 7 on Monday night. Electric Western has never been noted as a quick leaver, so it certainly wasn’t a surprise to see him drop back to 8th early. That’s when the fun started. Eventual winner #9 Weatherly floated out and stayed on the outside on the first turn keeping Electric Western pinned in and while he was going by, #2 Ciona Bromach pulled from last, making things even worse.

After 3/8ths of a mile, Electric Western was sitting last – a virtual impossible spot to win from – really through no fault of his own. Traffic issues persisted until the 1/8th pole and once he found some room, Electric Western closed willingly.

The main takeaway from all of this is that you can probably forgive a bad line or uneven effort from many horses that started from post one in the past 10 days and you might even be able to make a lucrative score if they move to the middle of the gate for their next starts. The other thing is, at least until the trend changes, don’t be afraid to try to beat a favorite with a red #1 on his back!