Does Pace Make The Race?


Pace makes the race but not always the way you think. In turf races, I have the contrarian theory that slow paced turf races help horses coming from behind. This is clearly a minority opinion as most handicappers believe that a slow pace aids the front runners and hurts the closers.

But, I have watched enough turf races with my own eyes to see over and over how a slow pace turns a turf race into a contest of who has the best ability to accelerate the quickest. And, despite using very little energy, it's not always the horse in front that takes full advantage.

When I am looking at past performances of turf races, I use the BRIS Pace figures found in their Ultimate Past Performances as a quick way of judging the pace of the race. But instead of focusing on the actual pace figures for the horse, I like to look at the race shape figures that are to their immediate right.

The two race shape numbers are for the race itself and not the individual horses. It gives you an idea of how fast or slow the pace was compared to what it should have been. A number preceded by a "+" sign indicates that it was a fast pace and a number preceded by a "-" sign indicates that the pace was slow. If a horse that went to the front shows up next time out against a horse that comes from way back, they both have the same race shape numbers. Most races fall within a range of plus or minus 5.

When a race falls outside the normal range, it pays to examine the chart and watch the replay, if possible. Slow-paced races usually mean the field running in a bunch so trips become more important. Horses buried on the inside behind a slow pace are usually at a disadvantage since the speed horses in front of them are less likely to tire early. Horses that are clear on the outside are at an advantage since they get a clear run at the lead without anything in their path.

When the horses in these races come back, you might see a horse that was five wide in the comment line but it might have been the perfect place to be.

In last Saturday's Man o' War S. (G1), there was as slow a pace as you will ever see -- especially on a turf course that has been baked hard the past month. Mission Approved (With Approval) was the lone speed and went to the front as expected. When nobody challenged him, he was able to cover his first quarter in :26.13, the half in :52.27 and three-quarters in 1:18.07.

Heavily favored GIO PONTI (Tale of the Cat) was in eighth and last place, getting no help with the pace. However, he was able to overcome it with a wide rally under Ramon Dominguez and get up in time. It was a gallant performance by last year's Eclipse Award winner who had severe traffic problems in his last start, the Manhattan H. (G1). He covered his last three furlongs in an amazing 33.90 and showed that he had the best acceleration of the group. That's what makes him a champion.

Unfortunately, Gio Ponti only earned a 96 BRIS Speed rating but this just shows, once again, how horses coming out of slow-paced races rarely earn fast Speed figures. I wouldn't make too many value judgments regarding Gio Ponti's current form based on a single effort with no pace.

Maybe what we need is a combination of early pace, late pace and final time. As slow as the Man o' War's early pace was, you don't see :33.90 final three-eighths very often. Yes, his final time of 2:16.20 was extremely slow but races are rarely run at constant velocity and you need to factor any pace variations into the equation.


Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. I experienced both within a few hours on Sunday afternoon. The first bet I made all day was the 4TH at Monmouth -- a straight $5,000 claimer going six furlongs for fillies and mares. Knowing there was a big carryover coming up at Hollywood Park later that day, I wasn't playing a lot but doing more work on the Pick 6.

However, SMOKIN GIRL (Smoke Glacken) caught my eye at Monmouth. She was claimed two starts back by Jeremiah Englehart at Finger Lakes and was shipping down to New Jersey for the $30,000 pot. She looked like she had the perfect pace-prompting running style for Monmouth and at 11-1, I made a strong win bet on her. To protect my win bet, I used Remember Shirley (Yonaguska) and Gia Nina (Yonaguska) in exactas on top of her.

At the start, Smokin Girl broke well but instead of prompting the pace, she kept dropping back. Eighth at the top of the stretch, she began to pick up tiring horses and inside the furlong pole she was rolling. With five lengths to make up, it never looked like she would get there. Indy's Forum (Open Forum) was battling Gia Nina through the finish and at the wire, it looked like Indy's Forum held on. If Gia Nina would have held on, I could have hit the exacta but all looked lost.

I watched the replay and still didn't think I won. Nor did I even think I had a chance at a dead heat. After an interminable wait, they posted Smokin Girl as the improbable winner at $43.80. I waited for the full replays were shown to see the photo and sure enough, there was Smokin Girl with her nose down on the wire, an inch ahead of Indy's Forum. Not only did I win the photo but she almost doubled in price as well.

So now it was on to the Hollywood Park Pick 6. I played a $288 ticket -- more than usual for me -- and had three of the six horses in the first leg. In the first leg, Kris Silver (The Silver Move) took a clear lead on the turf but one of the horses I left out, KNOCKOUT ARTIST (Exploit), was rallying furiously. Kris Silver gave it a good try, but at the wire was nailed by a nose by the 7-1 Knockout Artist.

I was out of the Pick 6 but then won the next five races, including having both halves of the dead-heat in race seven. Having lost the race with three runners on my ticket and having both halves of a dead-heat, I wound up with six consolation tickets worth $72.20 each.

Had I won the photo in the first race, the Pick 6 probably would have paid around $2,000 -- hardly a life changer but I would have had it twice. The win bet in the fourth at Monmouth was the big win since I was able to be more aggressive at Hollywood later in the day with more ammunition. I'll take a .500 batting average in tight photos any day of the week.

by Dick Powell


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