In this week’s column for AmWager I look at and talk about pace, and how it and the way speed flows has changed with the game.
We have all heard the saying:
“ Pace Makes the Race.”
For years pace has proven to be a deciding factor in the outcome of horse races. Fast contested paces led to closers having an advantage and often winning. Slow walk the dog and uncontested paces often lead to wire to wire or front end wins. Handicapping books have been written in this though I personally have never read one. Most Past Performances now include a pace projector. The pace is thought of be that important and I myself have been a long believer in this. My school of thought is changing. Not entirely but somewhat.
I don’t use any type of pace projectors. I calculate that myself. If I can’t figure out the projected pace more accurate than a computer program that can’t factor nuances, and intangibles, I need to find something else to do. I certainly would not want to wager on a race I could not accurately, actually very accurately, project the pace and who would be setting it, contesting it, stalking it, and trying to close into it.
In the recently run Kentucky Oaks there were about 5-6 pace horses. I felt Serengeti Empress would indeed get the early lead, but that she would be challenged often and hard. She wasn’t and Jose Ortiz was able to keep her in front the whole way. He seized the race, and the other riders let him do it. No pace projector can anticipate one speed horse going while all the others take back. We can, knowing certain rider tendencies, but it was hard to fathom in advance in the Oaks everyone but Jose would sit back.
In looking back at the Oaks, lack of a hot or contested pace may have made the race, but seeing that play out that way in advance, and landing on Serengeti Empress because of it, probably has close to lottery winning likelihood.
The Derby was a little different. I was at a loss in understanding how any handicapper could not clearly see Maximum Security would be on the lead. I’d have gone all in on that bet. More perplexing were the people who were saying their “pace projectors” were telling them Maximum Security would not be on the lead, and or his splits were not fast enough. Frankly, I was more interested in if anyone could keep him company early. I do not like him to win, but was sure he’d set the pace. He went 46 and change and won the Derby on the front. Justify went 45 and change and won it also. Bodemeister went that fast and almost won it. I started thinking and looking at a lot of charts. A lot.
I did not compile statistics. I did make an observation though. Speed seems to hold better now than say some years back. Horses tend to keep going and we see many re break in the stretch. We saw them come to Maximum Security and also saw him pull back away.
I have said for a long time the good handicappers evolve continually and change with the game. The game is changing. Pace is not as guaranteed an influence on the outcomes as it used to be. How many of these full of speed turf sprints do we see where one horse goes out and just doesn’t stop?
We train for speed. We emphasize it at the sales and in many of our stallions. Is this contributory if you agree with my observations? I think yes, at least in part.
We have the large majority of our horses on Lasix. Is this part of the equation? I’d bet yes. If it helps them keep going just a bit, it’s a factor.
We play today in an environment that is laden with cheating allegations, innuendos, positive tests, super trainers, high percentages, and more and more drugs, both therapeutic and otherwise available. Do you really think any pace projector can piece together that puzzle based on some splits? All of the above comes into play.
As a betting man if you ask me regardless of pace will the speed hold much of the time! You bet.
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