• Pace Handicapping: A Practical Demonstration

    POSTED Jun 14, 2013
    Over the pace couple of weeks, I’ve received a lot of e-mails asking me how I use my pace figures, or speed rations, to predict the outcome of a horse race.

    Invariably, these missives go something like this: “I love your (Pace Profile) reports, but I’m not really sure how to use them. Can you help?”

    Sorry, I can’t — I have no clue as to what I’m trying to convey in those reports… I jest, I jest. Actually, it’s a great question for any numbers-based handicapper and one that I hope to at least partially answer in this week's column.

    First, understand that speed and pace figures are only a part — albeit a very large part, in my opinion — of the handicapping process as a whole. All figures, no matter how accurate and/or insightful they are, can only offer a glimpse into what was, not necessarily what is going to be. In other words, just because a horse has earned superior (or poor) figures in the past, does not mean it will replicate those figures again today.

    Perhaps today’s race is at a different distance or over a different surface; perhaps there has been a significant change of trainers or riders; or new tactics will be employed, e.g. Mine That Bird in the 2009 Kentucky Derby. In short, there are a myriad of reasons as to why a horse might not reproduce its previous numbers.

    Still, outside of politics and economics (so it seems), history matters. The best indication of what a horse will do today can be found in what it has done in the past. Speed and pace figures simply allow one to view that past in a quantitative way. 

    To demonstrate this, let’s take a peek at a couple of races from Louisiana Downs on Saturday, June 15:

    (Click on image to enlarge)

    (Click on image to enlarge)
    The first thing to take note of regarding this race is that the average early speed ration, or ESR, is on the moderate side for a sprint race (-4), while the average late speed ration, or LSR, is on the poor side (-19).

    What this tells us is that Saturday’s opener at Louisiana Downs probably doesn’t feature a stellar field — check, it’s for state-bred non-winners of three — and that horses possessing even a modicum of early foot could have an advantage.

    Now, let’s take a closer look at the field:

    PRIVATE PRAYER
    This gelding is the morning-line favorite undoubtedly due to the fact that he’s been facing better. Notice his PC, or purse comparison, ratings are all in excess of 10, which is considered par for Saturday’s race. He’s also tied with Smartlightandquit in overall speed (Speed Rank) and ranks second to that rival in overall LSRs (LSR Rank). On the negative side is a pronounced lack of early foot (recent ESRs of 0, 0 and +1).

    PRIME CUVEE
    The question here is: Can this guy run on the dirt? He’s got two wins — both on the green — and his latest dirt try was atrocious. Not for me.

    VOO DOO LOVE
    He’s another that has to prove he’s not a turf specialist. However, unlike Prime Cuvee, I would keep this fella in the mix due to his excellent grass form.

    SMARTLIGHTANDQUIT
    Son of Toolighttoquit is clearly the one to beat, in my opinion. Not only does he rank first in overall speed (tied) and LSRs, but he’s got some early lick as well (witness the -14 ESR on March 15). Better still, his last race was a solid try against tougher (second in a PC-13 race).

    SOLAR NIGHT
    He’s been facing much, much better and is eligible to improve against the likes of these.

    GO ‘ON NOW
    Early speed is a huge advantage for gelding seeking his third win in a row, but that -18 LSR last time gives me pause. Still, he’s a contender.

    Final Word: On paper, this race belongs to SMARTLIGHTANDQUIT — he’s the fastest overall, the fastest late and he can be in touch early. Plus, he’s in fine form right now. I’ll play him to win at even odds or greater and in exactas over and under VOO DOO LOVE, SOLAR NIGHT and GO ‘ON NOW.

    The numbers are all over the place in the next race, so let’s move on to race number three:

    (Click on image to enlarge)
    Fast average ESR (-7) and decent LSR (-13) don’t really favor any particular type of horse in this turf dash.

    IN MOTION
    Hasn’t stepped foot on the lawn in nearly a year, but did win a similar event on June 24 over this track.

    UNBRIDLED VENTURE
    Has some back class, but he’s winless on the sod and his recent dirt figures don’t suggest that he'll improve on the green, green grass of home.

    SULTRY GENTLEMAN
    He’s a little slow early, but typically motors home; could be tough with the right kind of trip.

    IMA SMASH OAK
    Dueled through brisk fractions, yet still held on well last time. Son of Trust N Luck would be doubly tough if he can get the lead early.

    CAJUN PERSUASION
    He’s won more turf races than the rest of this field combined, but has Father Time finally caught up with this seven-year-old gelding? The recent numbers say “yes,” but I’m keeping him in the mix based solely on his past form.

    KEEP ON SMOKIN
    He’s got the best LSRs in the field, but that’s where the positives end. With no early speed to speak of — and not much speed, period — this dude could find himself with way too much to do late.

    WILDCAT CHARMS
    Although he hasn’t won in two tries over the lawn, this five-year-old gelding has a lot going for him. To begin with, he’s dropping significantly in class after recording a race-best -13 ESR last time and, even better, it doesn’t appear that he needs the lead to win. What’s more, he’s got the best overall speed figures in the race.

    Final Word: Even though the early pace could be blistering, I like the chances of WILDCAT CHARMS, who I think offers value at 7-5 or greater.

    Other Horses to Watch on Saturday (6/15/13)

    AP7: 1-TAZZ (superior last-race LSR).
    CD5: 1-BAIL ME OUT (superior last-race LSR).
    CD9: 3-KITTEN'S DUMPLINGS (superior last-race LSR).
    CNL4: 1-FIXIN THE BOOKS (best overall speed figures, ESRs and LSRs).
    CRC8: 3-THE BOOT WILDCAT (solid debut numbers).
    CRC11: 8-WEE ROSA (best last-race speed figure, ESR and LSR).
    SUF3: 5-CHI CHI'S PRIDE (best last-race speed figure and ESR vs. tougher).
    SUF8: The morning line favorite 4-CLIFFORD ranks dead last in overall speed, ESRs and LSRs. 1-MISTER DIXIE and 5-FRANKIE RULES look like great alternatives if the morning line is accurate.             
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