Dirt, Dirthers, Plastic Lovers & Comments

I read Beyer's column this evening on the Keeneland switch to dirt. I found the article a little disjointed, but, whatever, it's an opinion column.

One thing struck me, though. Five years ago, or even three years ago, the dirt guys would dominate the comments section in these columns. There'd be an Army of Asaros, yelling and screaming about "plastic" tracks or bringing out some obscure statistic or anecdote about how kickback makes the track infield geese wheeze, or how some dude in the race office works at a rubber factory that supplies some of the track surface so he can't be trusted.

Scanning the comments on Andy's column - and other columns like his the last few years - the vitriol is not there anymore. The easy answer is because some of their favorite tracks have switched back to dirt, yes, but I think it's more than that.

Dick Powell wrote a post somewhere years ago about polytrack. He shared stories about when the Meadowlands opened for harness racing in 1976, and how the mile track was received so poorly by players used to playing harness racing on bullrings. Horses would come from everywhere, there was little post bias; the game was completely different, and the old guard were Asaro'ed. "There's no way this racing could ever catch on," he said he heard from players, over and over again. That didn't happen, as we all know. 40 years later everyone wants mile tracks to compliment the half mile and five-eighth's ovals. They are a staple of the sport and by far the number one handle driver.

I wonder if this third surface was given a chance, something similar would've happened. Three surfaces, three styles of racing - something for everyone. Offering choice is not a bad thing. It's why there are 149 types of cheese.

Frankly, I think the comments section answered my own question. I think people were coming around to these surfaces and the neat handicapping puzzle they afforded the discerning horseplayer, just like the mile track did 40 years ago with the Meadowlands.

Keeneland handle up. Woodbine handle up for five straight years. Del Mar handle up. Santa Anita, when moved from poly to dirt, handle down. Nothing is that easy, and those stats might not be about surface, and probably aren't. But the mass exodus of handle you'd read about in the comments section of articles four years ago was a statistic racing uses often to make decisions: Statistics of the phantom variety. The supposed mass exodus of handle on poly is something that does not exist. While the dirt guys were on chat boards complaining, your average horseplayer was studying the third at Keeneland.

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