Horseracing: Sprint Success
Most horseplayers feel route races are more difficult to handicap than sprints. If the majority were correct, then we would not see such a disparity between the percentages of winning favorites for each type of race. In fact, one would expect to see the percentage of favorites winning sprint races higher than that for routes. This is not the case. A little more than 70 percent of all races are sprints, defined as less than one mile and not more than one turn and run at six furlongs but may be as long as seven-and-a-half furlongs.
Conventional wisdom holds that a fast breaker, a horse that sets a rapid pace for the first quarter-mile and takes the lead while saving ground on the rail, has a distinct advantage over the competition. But what happens when the race is riddled with fast breakers? The early leaders thwart each other’s effort and begin to back up in the final stretch. They also create traffic problems for themselves and quickly run out of real estate to correct the mistake.
Well, what if our sprinter lags behind the rest of the pack? This presents a more severe problem in that a horse that has neither been close to the leaders nor hugged the rail will not have sufficient energy to pass the others during the final stretch run. Even if the horse is able to save ground on the rail, he will also run into traffic problems as the leaders refuse to open a hole for him. The afore mentioned “traffic problems” can be readily seen in the chart comments as “blocked,” “bumped,” “checked” and “forced wide.”
However, the real test of a sprinter’s mettle is in the last quarter-mile stretch run. It is very important he runs effectively up until that point. He must stalk the leaders from the very start and never for a moment fall out of contention.
Look at each performance line where the horse ran six furlongs. First, eliminate any horse that was ever more than four lengths off the pace at the half-mile call for any of his past three six-furlong races. This rids us of the closer. Second, eliminate any horse that was in the lead for the first quarter-mile but lost it at the half, for his last three six-furlong races. This rids us of the speedball and dueler, both of whose running styles are subject to almost the same problems as those of the closer. Last, eliminate any horse that has not finished first or second at six furlongs.
Using the horse’s best finish (either first or second) at six furlongs, compute the final quarter-mile time for each of the remaining horses. If the horse was leading at the half as well, this is relatively simple. Convert the final time into seconds, subtract the half-mile time, and you have the final quarter-mile time.
In races where the horse did not lead at the half, add one-fifth second for each length the horse was off the pace to the actual half-mile time and you will have that horse’s half-mile time. The play is on the horse with the fastest final quarter-mile time.
As seen in Chart A below,
For example: In Trickle of Gold’s last six-furlong race, she ran :221/5, :45 3/5 and 1:11 1/5. As it happened, she led at the half and won the race. Converting 1:11 1/5 to :71 1/5 and subtracting :45 3/5, we have a final quarter-mile time of :25 3/5. Trickle of Gold had set the best final quarter-mile time, but she scratched.
Carly’ssilvercharm got caught up in a duel through the half (which we do not want to see) and was caught in the stretch by Gotta Rush.
Remember, most of the races are won by horses that are able to stalk the leaders but do not make their big move until the final two furlongs of the race.
Name Fin. ¼ Mi. Time Post Time Odds 11/01/04 Finish
Gotta Rush :26 7-2 1st
Trickle of Gold :25 3/5 Scratched Scratched
Carly’ssilvercharm :26 2/5 5-2 2nd
Mark Ripple is a veteran stockbroker and horseplayer who wrote the book “Handicapping the
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