This entire game of horse racing is about what happened in the past. How much speed a horse showed last time, if the runner can get the distance, and what style the runner utilizes all are tantamount to handicapping.
Pace is the name of the game, believe it or not and it gets lost sometimes in the hype of the event, whether it is the Kentucky Derby or Breeders’ Cup Day.
As mentioned the other day on the Madwinners web cast, any seminars I’ve done over the years immediately focused on pace and how the race is going to set up.
And let’s get something out of the way right away. I’m not professing to be the end all of handicappers and I’m not professing to know everything about this game of horse racing, but after over 3 decades of professional experience, even a mutant would learn a thing or two through osmosis.
But when beginning the handicapping process on a single race, players need to be able to figure out whom, how fast, and how cluttered the early portions of the race figure to be.
After that becomes clear, the race starts to come into focus.
Once fans can realize the correlation between the time of a past race and where each entrant was during any stage of that race, the door begins to open, the light goes on, the puzzle starts to unwrap and one can understand what makes up the running of each race.
Just like humans, racehorses have styles. Some are bred to run all day long and dawdle out of the gate and some are bred to be flat out blurs and go to the front as fast as their legs can carry them. Long distance runners have styles too. Some like to maintain pace and be in the first flight, some, 1972 Olympic 800 meters gold medal winner Dave Wottle comes to mind, liked to come from far back swooping the field late.
When thinking about style and races one focuses on who the front runners in the field are, who the stalkers, or those that figure close up but not far back off the pace are, and who are the dead closers in the race. When analyzing the previous positions in a race run by today’s entrants, one can get a clue on what to expect and how the race may materialize.
Once able to project where each horse will be at each juncture of the race, one can theorize which horses will gun for the front, which will try to gun but will have to settle for positions in the middle of the pack, and which horses that have shown no speed or propensity to lead and who figure to be far back early biding their time.
Basically, it’s like this. When reading the past performances and a horse shows a running line for a 6 furlong race of 1 by 2 lengths, 1 by 3 lengths, 1 by 4 and the finish margin of 1 by 5, it means he lead the entire way to score by 5 lengths. The first call, 1 by 2, correlates to the first quarter time of the race, say :22. The second call, 1 by 3, correlates to the half-mile time of say :45. The 1 by 4 correlates to the stretch call which is always an 8th of a mile from the finish, say :58 flat. And the final time of say 1:10 is the finish of 1 by 5.
If a horse’s running line in that same race says 2 by 2, 2 by 3, 2 by 4 and 2 by 5, it indicates he was second all the way to the winner and his projected first call time would be :22 2/5 and down the line.
Success then is based on visualizing the race before it starts. After getting a mental picture of the pace, a handicapper can evaluate each contender’s other virtues, like class, fitness, surface and distance preferences. And hopefully smoke out the pretenders from the contenders.
And the process sure doesn’t end there. In this day of super trainers and super connections it’s almost as important as where a horse has breakfast as to what kind of runner he is. And even if one projects the pace accurately, these are animals and blood is running through their veins, not octane. Stay tuned, and hopefully we can all learn and progress together.