Factoring the Rail in Turf Races
Level: Intermediate
By Dana Byerly, Hello Race Fans Co-founder

FEAT-SARturf-892
The rail, in white, is set out from the hedge. (Eclipse Sportswire)

We get a lot of great questions around here in the form of comments, and the answer to one such question seemed worth sharing as summer racing kicks into high gear.

What effect does the position of the rail in a turf race have? Why does it vary?

Turf courses makes use of a temporary rail to help with track maintenance. While watching a simulcast you may have noticed information about where the rail is set on the turf course. This information is usually imparted in feet (e.g., 10′ or 10 feet). If the rail is set at 10 feet, it means that the rail is 10 feet wider than the default position of the rail. If the position of the rail is listed as 0, it means there is no temporary rail being used.

Prior to this question I hadn’t spend any time thinking about the potential impact of the rail position, but after doing the research I have to thank commenter Ray for bringing it up as I plan to make use of this information as I play Saratoga!

Here’s the original answer with a few small updates:

Hi Ray,

That’s a great question. In a nutshell the use of a temporary rail on the turf course helps with the maintenance of the course. If the inside of the course becomes a bit chewed up, the temporary rail can be used to keep the horses off that part of the track. The effect is that the configuration of the course changes with each different rail position. For example, if the temporary rail is out, the turns become tighter which can mean a slower pace that makes it could potentially make it tougher for closers (editor’s addition: or easier for speed to hold). If the temporary rail is not being used the pace can tend to could potentially be faster, giving closers a better shot.

I found a couple of good reads on this subject in relation to the effect of the rail positions:

The first post in this thread further explains the maintenance issues and the effects of the positions. And this post was mentioned in the thread as being insightful (and it is!).

One takeaway would be to familiarize yourself with your favorite turf course or courses and keep track of post position stats in relation it rail use and to keep an eye on charts to see what kind of running styles are winnings at the various rail positions. You can find the position in results charts, here’s a recent example from the Mac Diarmida at Gulfstream, chart courtesy of Brisnet.com.

Use the charts to determine rail position

The rail was set at 12 feet, the pace was slow and the winner sat close. Tracks also tend to have stats in their handicapping sections, here’s a link to Gulfstream’s post position stats (which does not include anything about rail position, unfortunately). But the Track Conditions section of their site is an excellent source of rail position information.

With a little bit of legwork this could be a very interesting angle when playing your favorite track over the course of a meet.

Thanks for stopping by and thanks for a great question!

With Saratoga and Del Mar starting this week, it’s a great chance to keep an eye on how, if at all, the rail position effects the outcome of turf races during the meet. I didn’t find a track maintenance section on Del Mar’s site, but rail information is included overnight entry pdfs. Click on the date to open the pdf and the rail information will be listed on the right with information about which surface/course the race will be run on.

It should also be noted that Del Mar has a brand new turf course this year, with more rail positions than previous years. The track’s Vice President of racing was quoted at DRF on the matter:

Robbins said the new turf course has six rail settings at six-foot increments, ranging from the permanent position, or zero setting, to a temporary rail 30 feet out from the permanent position. The old turf course had three settings at seven-foot ranges, from zero to 14 feet.

You can find rail information for Saratoga in the Track Conditions section of their site as well as in the overnight entry pdfs. Other current meets with rail information on their site include Arlington Park, Gulfstream Park and Monmouth Park. If I missed one, please let me know! And if you can’t find a section called Track Maintenance or Track Conditions on your local track’s site, you can always try the entries/changes/scratches page.

When it comes to charts, there seem to be two places that the rail information could be included. Either with the conditions of the race, as shown above in the Gulfstream Park example, or with the surface condition as seen here in a chart from the 2013 Fourstardave Handicap:

Fourstardave Handicap rail position

If you can’t find any rail information for a turf race in the chart, the temporary rail was probably not being used.

Update: Only one two past performance providers currently include rail positions for previous races in their PP: Equibase’s Premium Past Performances and TimeformUS. Equibase includes it in the running line along with run up information, which you can learn more about run distances from this relatively recent post by Andy Beyer.

Equibase rail information

And TimeformUS includes it with full race conditions within the running line, accessible by clicking the color-coded oval (based on surface type) for more information:

TimeformUS rail information

All major past performance providers (Brisnet, Daily Racing Form, Equibase and TimeformUS) include rail information for today’s race with the detailed race conditions. It’s usually the last sentence, so you don’t have to slog through a lot abstruse conditions to determine the rail setting!

And, your favorite local handicapper can also be a good source of insight on the effects of the rail. Check these tweets from Monmouth’s official handicapper and all-around astute player Brad Thomas:

And this subsequent tweet from Thomas highlights that rail position, just like any other angle, is not foolproof:

As with any any angle, be sure to consider other factors in combination, such as distance and surface condition (soft, firm, etc) as well as noting what kind of pace, fractional splits and running styles the race produced. As we like to say to around, this is just one piece of the puzzle, but perhaps with a little legwork you can find an occasional edge. Happy summer turf ‘capping!

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Charts and PPs provided by Brisnet

3 comments

  • OK, I get that they have the options to set the rail at preset distances, but that seems to me to leave a lot of holes in the turf — when they move they rail back in, how do they fill the holes?

  • Hi Rich, good question. I would assume the maintenance crew has a way to easily fill in the holes, but will try to get a confirmation. Thanks for stopping by!

  • When the rails are extended and because of the extra distance around the turns for each path, therefore if the rail is extended to say 18 feet which translates to an extra 40 feet per turn at the average track. If the run-up timer remains fixed regardless of where the rail is positioned then how is this factored into the total distance of a race. e.g. is a 5F race as listed in the program 3300 feet or really 3300+40 feet. When comparing turn times this becomes an important issue just as important as factoring in how wide a horse runs in a turn.
    Mike

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