by Bob Pandolfo
Few people would disagree with the premise that good horses run fast. Why was Holy Bull an outstanding racehorse? Simple answer: He was very fast.
If you're a good enough handicapper to zero in on the fastest horse in each race, you should have no problem. However, a horse's speed changes according to fitness. A finely-tuned Corvette puts out about 275 horsepower and can go zero to 60 in less than seven seconds. The same Corvette with a blown valve or a few bad spark plugs won't be able to go nearly as fast.
What we need to find are fast horses that are in shape. My search for in-shape speed often involves a tour of the result charts. I calculate speed figures and track variants for about 10 tracks at a time and most of these tracks are on major circuits. When I'm figuring out the track variant, I can see which races are exceptionally fast for the class. I call these races "hot races." A hot race, in my book, is a race that goes about a second or more faster than par for that class, and has an early pace which is also faster than par. As you probably know, par is the term we use for average time.
For example: a typical $10,000 claiming horse at Santa Anita has an average time of 1:10.2. The par time for the half mile fraction is :45. Let's say that I figure out the track variant for the day, and it comes out to +2. That means that the track was two fifths of a second faster than par, or average. In one of the day's events, a $10,000 claiming race went in 1:09 flat, and the half was :44. Since the variant was +2, we would add that to the final time. So, 1:09 becomes 1:09.2. We then take half of the variant and add it to the half-mile split to adjust that time. The half time of :44 becomes :44.1. After adjusting the pace and final time we have the race in 1:09.2, which is one full second faster than par. The half was :44.1, which is four fifths faster than par. (With the pace fraction, I only look for it to be about one fifth or more faster than par.) You can see that this race falls into my "hot race" category. The final time is a second faster than average, and the pace is faster than average.
What is the significance of a hot race? Well, these races are both fast and fast paced. Consequently, horses that perform well in a hot race are sharp, and tend to run will in subsequent starts. This is not a new concept, and it's not my idea. I first read about the concept in Dr. William Quirin's book Thoroughbred Handicapping: State of the Art. Dr. Quirin did extensive tests on these races some years ago and found that horses which raced close to the pace and held well came back to win often enough to show a profit. I generally look for horses that were within five lengths of the leader at the pace call, and finished within five lengths of the winner. This is a fast and fit horse.
I publish a newsletter (Action Weekly) and I list hot races for all the major race tracks in the country. I've received quite a bit of feedback from readers who've been using the hot races, and I think that most of us have been pleasantly surprised in the effectiveness of these races as handicapping tools. We've found that even horses which finished far back, more than five lengths behind the winner, have often come back to run well. One of my subscribers pointed out a hot race from Gulfstream this past winter that produced three next-out winners, including a horse named Sikkum, who won his next start at 20-1.
I'm sure that some of you are already wondering if these hot races are the same as key races. I don't know which turf writer developed the key race theory, but a key race is a race that is producing winners. In other words, a number of horses coming out of a particular race come back to win. The problem with a key race is you have a spot it right away. After three of the horses have won, you've already missed the boat. With hot races, the fractions and the final time of the race put you on the alert. Many hot races do indeed turn out to be key races.
Of course, not all of these hot races produce future winners. Sometimes one horse gets the lead, sets a quick pace, and demolishes the field by 15 lengths. Although the pace and final time fall into the hot race category, the only horse that was really "hot" in the race was the winner. However, I've found that in hot races with close finishes, we're looking at a good bunch of Thoroughbreds. This concept is a terrific indicator in maiden races, and races that feature young and lightly-raced horses. By looking for horses that showed speed, or were close to the hot pace and tired, you can often spot potential stakes winners in maiden hot races. Often these horses come back in a slower field and win or run second. Sometimes a horse that finishes far back in a hot race takes a key drop in class and upsets.
There are two ways to spot hot races. The first is easy, but you need a set of par times for your track. Initially, I thought of publishing the par times for $10,000 claimers at all the major tracks in this article. However, I'd have to go into a lengthy explanation of how to extrapolate the $10,000 par time to get the par times for other classes and distances.
To spot hot races using par times, you simply compare the final time, and pace fraction, of each race to the par times. Even a novice can evaluate a 10-race card in five minutes. That's all it takes, five minutes a day. All you do is compare the final time of each race to the par time for that class and distance, and jot down the difference. Say the first race is a non-winners of one with a par time of 1:10 for six furlongs. The final time was 1:11. Jot down -5. Follow that same procedure for all of the races. Al the end, average it out. Let's say that you come up with these numbers: -5, -6, -2, -4, -7, -9, -1, +5, -3, -19. As you can see, nine of the 10 races were slower than average, one was exceptionally fast, and one exceptionally slow. Discard the -19 and the +5 from the numbers and average out the other eight. Add -5, -6, -2, -4, -9, -1, -3 = -30. To take an eight-race average, simply divide eight into -30 = 3.7, which we would round off to the nearest whole number. The track variant for that day would be -4.
Now that we have the track variant, we can easily see that the +5 falls into the "hot race" category. Let's use the variant to adjust times. Let's say that in the +5 race, it was a $25,000 claiming race with a par time of 1:10. The final time of the race was 1:09. That's how we got the +5. The race was a full second, or five fifths faster than average. Each length equals one-fifth of a second (this is debatable, but sound enough for our purposes). The track variant was -4. We always deduct a minus variant, and add a plus variant. The final time for the race as 1:09. Since the variant was -4 we'd subtract four fifths from 1.09, and get an adjusted time of 1.08.1. This is one-and-four-fifths of a second faster than par, an obvious and huge hot race!
However, to truly fall into the hot race category, the pace must also be faster than average. On our par time chart, we see that the par time for the half for this class and distance is :45. The half-mile time in the race was :45. However, we must now adjust it. The track variant was -4. To adjust the half of a sprint (or any race up to a mile) simply add or subtract half of the track variant. In these cases, half of -4 is -2. The half-mile split was :45. Deduct two-fifths from :45 and we get :44.3. In case of odd numbers, round off to the lower number. For instance, if the variant was -5, half would be -2.5, but we'd still only deduct two points from the half time time.
Now we have an adjusted half-mile split of :44.3. Our par is :45. Yes, this race qualifies. The final time is a least a full second faster than par, and the half-mile is at least one-fifth of a second faster than par. This definitely falls into the hot race parameters.
If you've never done this type of stuff before, it may sound complicated, but believe me, it isn't. You can follow this procedure for the entire card and have your track variant, and hot races (if any) in a matter of minutes. There may be better, more accurate ways to make track variants. Andy Beyer, and many other turf writers have written about "projected" variants. In theory, a projected variant should be more accurate than a variant constructed using par times. However, once you start projecting variants, the process takes a bit longer. If you're interested in this concept, I'd suggest reading some books on speed handicapping.
For our purposes of being able to spot hot races at your local track, the par times work very well, and are quick and easy to use. All you have to do is spend five to 10 minutes a day using the result charts. Keep a record of all hot races and use them in the manner I've explained in this article.
Using Daily Racing Form Variants
If you don't want to make a variant, you can also use the Daily Racing Form variant. Generally speaking, a zero (or par) in the Daily Racing Form variants falls somewhere between 15 and 19, depending on the track. At a high-class track, like Santa Anita, you can use 15 in sprints, and 18 in routes. At smaller tracks, these numbers will be higher. If you look at the bottom of the Daily Racing Form result charts, you'll notice that they list the track variant for each race. The variants are also in each past performance line, directly to the right of the Daily Racing Form speed rating.
Let's say that the Daily Racing Form variant for a particular $25,000, seven-furlong claiming race at Santa Anita is 20. I just told you that zero at Santa Anita is 15. If the variant is 20, that means that the track was five points slow. Tom Brohamer (author of Modern Pace Handicapping), and William Scott (author of Total Victory at the Track), have suggested through their research that you use one length for every two points of the Daily Racing Form variant. So in this case, we have a track that was five points slow. That would come out to 2-1/2 lengths. Round off to the highest number, three. Let's say that the final time was 1:10.2. Subtract three-fifths to adjust the time to 1:09.4. For the fractional split, take half of the variant. Half of five points is 2.5 points. Since we're taking one length for every two points, we'll use one length for the 2.5 points. (Always round to the lower number when figuring the pace adjustment.) If the half-mile time was :44.4, we'd deduct one point, and make it :44.3. Our adjustments now look like this: half time = :44.3; final time = 1:09.4. We still have to know that the par time is for a $25,000 claiming race if we're going to spot a hot race. So let's say that we have a list of par times, and we see that the par time for a $25,000 claiming race at Santa Anita is 1:09.3. The par time for the half is :44.3. We can see that this was not a hot race. It went one fifth slower than average.
You can figure out what the Daily Racing Form variant pars are for your track rather easily. Take three or four days when the weather is comfortable and dry, and the final times don't seem to be excessively slow, or fast. Look in the Daily Racing Form result charts and write down the sprint variants for all the days, and write down the route variants. Average the numbers out. Let's say that the average sprint variant for a four-day period is 18. That's probably right about par. You can use that for par, or zero, and adjust your variants from there each day.
The same principle applies in routes. If 18 is your zero for sprints, then a race that gets a Daily Racing Form variant of 24, is -6 points, or three lengths. If a horse runs seven furlongs in 1:23 on a day when the variant is 24, simply deduct three points and adjust the final time to 1:22.2. If the variant comes out on the plus side, add the points from the final time. To adjust the half-mile fraction, use half of the variant. A variant of 12, would be six points fast, or three lengths added to the half time.
To adjust pace fractions in routes (races over a mile), take half of the variant and subtract a minus variant from the three quarter time, or add a plus variant to the three quarter time.
The Best of the Day
Another tip-off to exceptionally run races can also be found in the result charts. I always look to see which race had the fastest fractional splits. Let's say that there were seven sprint races run, and all of them had half-mile times between :46 and :46.4, except one race, a maiden race, that had a half-mile time of :45.1. As you can see, the pace in that race was much faster, on average, than the rest of the day. The pacesetters, and horses close to the pace in that race, were moving.
Pace is the Key
Consider this basic observation: A horse that exerts too much energy keeping up with a fast pace is probably going to tire later in the race. However, given a different pace scenario in a following start, the same horse might finish much more strongly. That's why it is important to have a good understanding of the effect that pace can have on a horse's performance. At many race tracks, the majority of winners (especially in sprints) are horses that are fast and fit enough to stay within five lengths of the leader at the half. Horses that tend to be far back are good horses to use underneath in exotic plays, but often get into traffic and are unreliable win propositions, unless the pace of the race figures to be blazing. Personally, I tend to lean towards horses that have exhibited the ability to accelerate at some point before the eighth pole. One-run closers that don't make their move until the stretch are often sucker bets, particularly in sprints. Also be careful of backing one-run closers at tracks that favor horses which race close to the pace.
Copyright © 1995 American Turf Monthly
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