By Bob Ehalt
Pace makes the race is an old racing axiom – and one that plays out every day at racetracks across the country.
Races as big as the Kentucky Derby (G1) or as obscure as a $5,000 claimer are often decided by early fractions that can be too fast, too slow or something in between.
As easy as it might be to determine the impact of internal fractions on a race once it’s over and the betting windows are long closed, an understanding of why a particular horse went gate-to-wire or stopped on a dime at the eighth pole can pay dividends down the road.
While the bulk of attention – perhaps too much attention – is placed on where a horse finished in a race, there are extenuating circumstances that can enhance or diminish a horse’s performance, and pace is one of them.
For instance, a horse that gets away with slow fractions and a clear lead and then wins easily might grow leg weary in the final furlong next time if he faces a faster and more bitterly contested pace.
Meanwhile, a horse that tries to close from last in the same race but settles for second might very well land in the winner’s circle next time with the help of a more reasonable pace.
The key element in all this is recognizing whether a pace is fast or slow, and that’s not as easy as it might seem. On some days, what sounds like fast fractions might actually be a tad slow because of a lightning-fast racetrack. Conversely, seemingly slow fractions could be quite quick.
To deal with this, there are several options. Several handicapping services offer pace ratings that take much of the mystery out of the equation.
There’s also a good home remedy.
To start, serious handicappers should always download the free racing charts at equibase.com for their favorite track and review them on a daily basis.
Seeing how all of the races on a particular day played out will show whether the racetrack was kind to front-runners or closers.
Then attention should be focused on the fractions for each race to see if they were unusually fast or slow. After that, it’s best to compare apples with, yes, apples.
Check to see if there are several races at the same distance and measure them against each other. Line them up by purse value and then see if the fractions at the first two calls match up. There are always exceptions, but generally the richer and better races will contain faster fractions. Yet if the horses in the $14,000 claiming race outrun those in the $42,000 allowance race in the early stages, something’s amiss. Either the $14,000 horses ran their eyeballs out or the allowance runners crawled on the front end. Maybe both.
Once you have an understanding of the pace it’s easy to fill in the dots about the race. It tells you whether a gate-to-wire winner ran the most impressive race or the true hero was the horse who closed from last but had to be content with runner-up honors. Sometimes unusually fast fractions can rationalize a loss and set the stage for a better result next time when the conditions are more favorable for a front-runner.
Once you identity these key races and upgrade or downgrade performances, the real reward comes when those horses run again so you can either bet on or bet against them.
Either way, it’s all about pace, which can indeed make the race, be it yesterday, today or tomorrow, too.