Handicapper's Edge

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JANUARY 18, 2013

by Dick Powell

If you are handicapping horses at Gulfstream Park or Aqueduct's inner dirt track this winter, there's one thing that they have in common: Speed Rules!

Let's start at Gulfstream Park going one mile out of the chute. Through last Sunday there have been 45 races run at that distance and 20 percent of them went gate-to-wire. But, the BRIS Speed bias for one-mile dirt races at Gulfstream is an amazing 80 percent.

Unless you get a crazy early pace, like we saw in Sunday's Grade 3 Hal's Hope Stakes when they went a first quarter in :22.64 and a half-mile in :44.75, speed dominates day after day. What you constantly see are horses gun to the front and the ones that can open up by daylight just keep going. The stalkers look like they are in prime position until the top of the stretch, where the front runner keep on going and the stalkers spin their wheels and go over to the wrong lead.

Even with some very slow final quarter-miles, speed is still golden going a mile on the dirt there. Another key measurement is that the winner is only 1.8 lengths behind the leader at the first call and only one length behind at the second call on average. Snooze and you lose.

At six furlongs, there have been 57 races run and the speed bias has been 76 percent. An amazing 40 percent of the six-furlongs races were won going gate-to-wire and the winner is an average 1.8 lengths behind the leader at the first call. The numbers are similar for 5 1/2-furlong and 6 1/2-furlong races.

At Aqueduct, similar patterns exist. At six furlongs, there have been 88 races run and the speed bias is 70 percent. Forty percent of them have been won going gate-to-wire and the winner is only 1.6 lengths behind the leader at the first call on average.

What's amazing at Aqueduct is how speed still holds up going two turns. At the popular distance of one mile and 70 yards, there have been 48 races run and the speed bias is 75 percent. Thirty-one percent of these races were won going gate-to-wire and the winner is 1.6 lengths behind the leader at the first call on average.

Knowing this going in only helps you so much. It's not always easy to tab the horse who is going to make it to the top and more than one horse might want it. If I am following the races and see that speed is holding up, there are a number of things that I do.

First, I go over all the horses and see how versatile they are. A horse might have learned to relax in his races but at one point, showed high speed away from the gate in the past. That early gas might come in handy if the rider chooses to use it. Other horses are more one-dimensional. The stone-cold closers can be tossed unless there is an abundance of front-end speed, which might set it up for a late rally. If you are going against a pronounced bias, make sure you get a good price.

If you do identify a lone-speed type, I would give that sort of horse extra points meaning that I might still like the horse even if it is moving up in class against seemingly better company. A speed horse on a speed track is what we all look for. If you are really paying attention, make sure you realize the next time that horse runs back he had things his own way and the performance might not be as good as it looks.

BRIS' Ultimate Past Performances have some tools built in that are very efficient in trying to figure out who the true leader will be in a race where you want your selection on the lead.

The first is to know the winning profile for the track and distance, which can be found on the Track Bias Stats box. This is where you know the up-to-the-minute track bias stats, the number and percentage of front-end winners and the beaten lengths the winner is behind.

If it's a race that historically favors speed horses, we can make a sound judgment on which horses can make the lead by not only looking at their past performance lines but using the pace figures that are found to the right of the "racetype" in the past performance line.

A horse that makes the lead but only runs 85 to do it might not be as fast as the horse stalking the pace but running 91. When they are matched up, chances are the 91 horse can outsprint the 85 horse and take best advantage of the track bias.

Another tool is the "Running Style Stats," which is located in parentheses next to the horse's name. This is going to give you the horse's running style ranging from Early (stone cold speed horse) to Early/Presser to Presser to Sustain or Closer. Next to the running style are the Early Speed points, which range from 0 (not much speed) to 8 (a lot of speed).

At a glance, you can scan the field and get a sense of the race shape. In a race filled with P and S runners that have low speed points, a good E horse with high speed points might have found the right spot.

By the way, if you watched Aqueduct on Wednesday, forget about everything I just said. Even on a sloppy track, speed horses were quitting on the inside and being run down by closers rallying down the middle of the track. It happens.


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