Clocker's advice: observe synthetics and go for value

Jul 29, 2008 7:02 PM

Golden Edge by Ed Golden | Toby Turrell is a rarity, sort of like a Major League pitcher who throws a complete game. Turrell makes his living at the race track, not by betting, but by advising others what to play.

As proprietor of Winners Card, the best tip sheet sold at tracks such as the Fair Grounds, Keeneland and Churchill Downs, in addition to those in California, Turrell has earned a reputation for being forthright. By my personal observation if not by actual fact, through the years his "Yellow Sheet" has shown greater profit than his competitors, each of whom (in the Golden State, at least) is licensed by the California Horse Racing Board.

There is unregulated competition, if you will, from Internet sites, where itís every man for himself. "As everyone knows, and itís not just for horse racing, there are no holds barred on the Internet," Turrell said.

He leaves his house every day at 5 a.m. sharp to begin clocking horses. His day ends when he has thoroughly scrutinized tapes of previously run races. "I do a very detailed trip analysis from tape and take no short cuts," Turrell said.

"I take time out for two meals, not three; I take a couple hours out of the day for my kids (Allison, 16; Caitlyn, 13, and Tanner, five), and the rest is no TV, no vacations, all horse racing. Iíve gone after each customer one at a time and tried to earn their trust and respect, and I look forward to having another unique edge once Santa Anita reopens."

When Santa Anitaís Pro-Ride surface is installed prior to the Breedersí Cup World Championships at Oak Tree on Oct. 24 and 25, Turrellís challenge will be all the more daunting, since Pro-Ride will be the third different synthetic surface on Southern Californiaís major thoroughbred tracks. Hollywood Park has Cushion Track, while Del Mar runs on Polytrack.

"Once Santa Anita reopens for training, everyone will be in the same boat," said the 43-year-old Turrell, a native of Southern California whose father, Terry, also is a proficient handicapper. He will be clocking horses at Los Alamitos for Winners Card. In addition, Toby has just launched a national website,

"I donít think anyone knows what Santa Anita will be like compared to what it was before (when its original Cushion Track, victimized by major drainage issues, was treated with a portion of Pro Ride to alleviate the problem," Toby continued.

"Thereís a possibility that all three tracks will be radically different. Thatís already been proven through the first week at Del Mar, where the Polytrack is very similar to what it was last year, even though the times are a little faster."

Safety of horse and rider, which spurred a mandate from the CHRB that California thoroughbred tracks with meets four weeks or longer install synthetic surfaces by the end of 2007, has improved, according to state-maintained statistics. Turrell, who has been providing Winners Card for two decades, concurs.

"I would say in general that the tracks have been safer, and I would lean on the fact that Santa Anita had the door open to return to a traditional dirt track before deciding on Pro Ride," he said. "But the majority of horsemen voted not to go back to dirt. That shocked me, to be honest with you, and I think it shocked a lot of people.

"But when a race like the San Diego Handicap, which might have had six or seven horses on a dirt track, attracts a full 10-horse field on Polytrack, that speaks volumes for synthetic surfaces.

"Getting back to Pro Ride, I donít think anyone truly knows how it will play. It will be an observational challenge on a day to day basis and I look forward to being out there the first day the track opens."

Passion for the sport drives Turrell as much, if not more so, than the opportunity to keep the wolf away from the door. "Absolutely," Turrell said when asked if at $3 a pop, his tip sheet shows a profit. "Itís a very lucrative business."

Nice guy that he is, Toby did offer bettors this free sample: "Rule of thumb is always try to demand value, with the age-old 5-1 (odds) or better, and lean more towards exactas as far as exotic bets go."

The homestretch

Favorites were winning a less than a 20 percent rate at Del Mar through Saturday.

ē Despite 13 sports pages in Sundayís Los Angeles Times, there wasnít one word on horse racing, including a three-day Pick Six carryover of more than $1.5 million. The financially troubled publication did find space for the Boston Bruins buying out the final year of Glen Murrayís contract, and goaltender Mickey Jarboe making 19 saves to lead the Riptide to a 13-9 victory over the Philadelphia Barrage in a Major League Lacrosse match.

Sunday was the last day the Times published its Opinion and Book Review and Real Estate sections. As far as Iím concerned, it could also do away with the Calendar section, because I never heard of the people they write about.

ē Maybe Barack Obama didnít visit our troops because he didnít have enough gum for all of them. Did I mention he smokes?

ē One thing you can say about brainy Bo Derek being appointed to the California Horse Racing Board: Sheís not just another pretty face.