Today's "October Nuggets" newsletter begins with a discussion of the very real but still mysterious phenomenon we refer to as key race.

A key race simply put is one from which at least 2 horses win their next start.

The very best key race I've ever seen was a field of 7 from which 6 returned to win with the other finishing 2nd and then winning its next.

What many players do is keep records using results charts of how many horses in every race return to win their next start.

The problem with this approach is, however, that often by the time a key race is identified those that will win out of it already have.

In other words, it's a rarity to find a race that produces more than 2 or 3 next-out winners, so by the time a race has been confirmed as key, most or all of the next-out winners are likely to have already scored.

Key races may also produce horses that run 2nd, sometimes to another horse exiting the same race.

So is this the greatest newsletter ever written that will reveal once and for all how to identify key races before any horses have come back for their next start?

Sorry to say, but no.

Having spent a good bit of time some years back trying to identify strong vs. weak races, in particular key races, I came to the conclusion that there is no reliable approach to that endeavor.

But I did come up with some interesting circumstances that were common factors in a number of key races.

Not for each and every race that spawns a couple of next-out winners, but these conditions seem to be present in quite a few.

  • A race won in wire-to-wire fashion, preferably with the winner increasing its lead at each call point.

    Such a horse in a 6F race, for instance, might be ahead after the first call (2 furlongs) by 1 length, the 2nd call (4F) by 3 1/2 lengths, at the 8th pole by 5 lengths and at the finish by 6 lengths.

    What is more important than increasing its lead at every call is that the winner not lose ground from the top of the stretch to the finish line.

  • The entire field finishing the race in Indian file, so to speak.

    Rather than being bunched up in a blanket finish, strong races tend to have all the entries spread out, not only at the finish, but from the 8th pole to the finishline.

    In other words, during the final furlong and at the finish each horse should have daylight (1 or more lengths) between it and the horses in front and/or behind.

    Obviously, if these theories were right on the money and accurate every time they would be the answer to the key race mystery.

    But, alas, they are not.

    For those that believe in the key race phenomenon, however, these are often important factors.

    Other possible contributors are:

  • Strong fractional splits.

    If a study of results charts reveals a race with much faster fractions than other similar races (like sprints vs. other sprints or routes vs. other routes) on a particular day or even the best of 2 or more of the past days' racing on a particular track, it can be meaningful with regard to being a winner-producing event.

  • Standout actual final fractions.

    I and those who use the C.H. Data Service Report also have access to another indicator that can often be a good measure of comparing quality of races - the RFF or raw final fraction, and that's why this very little used internal fraction is included in our report.

    C.H. Data Service includes a free C.H. Viewer, into which are uploaded not only daily C.H. Data Reports for many racetracks in North America, but also the near-daily (usually 5 times per week) C.H. Insights I write for both paid users and 14-day free experience users.

    The Insights are articles that are meant to educate users how best to apply Calibration Handicapping techniques to successfully handicap and make money at thoroughbred horseracing.

    For a recent example of an Insights article, which also touches on how the RFF can give clues to strength of races, and demonstrates how anyone using the C.H. Data Report for Louisiana Downs on Saturday 9/25/04 could have made a nice score in the Super Derby, please click here.

    Now let's review a race that is an example of how pace shape analysis can point to value payoffs, and also one that touches on the key race theories I've been discussing.

    It is race 6 run at Delaware Park on September 22, 2004.

    You can view and/or print the p.p.'s for today's first review race by clicking here.

    And the results chart is here.

    This was a field of 8 going 5 1/2 furlongs in a $16K claimer for horses that had never won 2 races.

    As shown in the C.H. Data Report the pace shape label was Ad Early and the pace shape analysis: [2] +2 > [7] +1 > [8] +1 > [5] +1 > [3] +13 > [1].

    Here is the field with running style, last-out Beyer speed figure, raw/actual final fractions, and any Calibration Handicapping "moves-within-a-race." For more info about my approach to handicapping and making money on the thoroughbreds, please click here.

    1. Sir Royale EP 55 25.3/26.3 Profile play

    2. Justonemoreround EP 43 27.0/26.2 ---

    3. Talbot County E 60 25.4/25.4 ---

    4. Major Price P 33 24.2/26.3 ---

    5. First Class Trip E 55 25.0/26.2 Profile play

    6. War Hawk P 58 25.0/25.2 ---

    7. Tommyleecat E 52 27.0/26.4 ---

    8. Afortunado E 80 24.3/24.4 ---

    Here is the analysis I gave for this race in my C.H. Insights article for this racing day.

    #1 Sir Royale: his last was a 7th place finish in his first try on turf and his previous was a dull outing (26.3/28.1/37.1) at 6F; despite qualifying as a "move-within-a-race" play I call the Profile play, he was a non-contender as the 6th-ranked pace shape analysis horse 18 quickness points behind the others.

    #2 Justonemoreround: as the top-ranked entry in the pace shape analysis, he finished third in his last at this level to a runaway 5 1/2 length wire to wire winner.

    In a Tip of the Day (that pops up when you open your C.H. Viewer) I briefly discuss the key race phenomenon. For those who have the time to take a look at charts of races the entries are exiting, the race this one and #7 Tommyleecat last ran in had a good look to it.

    It was run at Timonium on September 3rd at 6 1/2F, and the winner as stated went wire to wire while carving out the fastest early splits of 22.2 and 47.1 from 4 races run at that distance that day.

    And at the finish the horses were all spread out, with at least 3 3/4 lengths separating each from the other.

    Does this qualify these two horses as logical contenders?

    No, it’s just additional handicapping information that can on occasion influence contender selection.

    Justonemoreround qualified on the basis of being tops in the pace shape analysis, coming off a good race, and winning at this trip 3 races back with C.H. internal fraction stats of 25.2/25.2/34.0 Evn.

    #3 Talbot County: he was stepping up off a front running graduation win in his 2nd career try. Facing winners for the first time, 4 of which had better pace shape analysis figures, the best we could expect from him was a place or show finish.

    #4 Major Price: this P-labeled runner was coming off a dull performance when beaten 18 1/2 lengths in 6th. His prior maiden win with C.H. stats of 26.0/25.4/35.3 T+, Evn could have been seen as enough to include him in the show slot of trifecta wagering.

    But as discussed in "Winning with C.H.", a document I wrote for the new C.H. Data Report, we need to select our contenders with some parameters, the main one of those being a last-out good race or currently exhibiting next-out readiness indicators that would make us believe a good race is forthcoming.

    The drop in class was not enough to expect this one to hit the board, which he had done just once in his 7 lifetime tries, that being on a muddy Pimlico racetrack.

    #5 First Class Trip: he was a speed/fade/drop play coming off a 7th place finish on this track. But he had not hit the board in his last 7 outings, including when 4th in his prior at this level.

    As a frontrunner with plenty of other early speed signed on, his chances for success were not good in this particular match up despite being a Profile play.

    Had he been in a Strong Ad Early pace shape as the lone early speed runner it would have been a different story completely.

    #6 War Hawk: he had run 3 consecutive dull races, including his last which was his first following a layoff of nearly one year.

    #7 Tommyleecat: 2nd at this level in his last, he was also 2nd ranked in the pace shape analysis, and deserved a spot on the contender list.

    #8 Afortunado: he possessed standout internal fractions compared to the rest of this field, and being a top 3 pace shape analysis horse in a pace shape that favored horses labeled either E or EP, he was a top contender.

    When seeing a horse like this that seems to lay over the field in terms of pace and final fractions, we should always look for any "chinks" in its armor, so to speak.

    The past performance listings did indicate that his last 2nd place finish was in effect a form reversal, having finished 7th, beaten over 57 combined lengths in his previous 3 outings at higher claiming levels.

    With that in mind and noting that he like all the others had only 1 win on their slate, his being 22/1-5-2, he could have been thought of as at least somewhat vulnerable to any other top contenders.

    The odds can often be our guide to betting, and this was a good example of contenders being sent to the post with odds far exceeding morning lines and/or our own value lines.

    This was simply because the majority of the betting public saw Afortunado as pretty much a lead-pipe cinch to win this race.

    Mostly because of his last-out Beyer speed figure of 80, which however was a career best mark, and one that could cause a regression at least to some degree, especially returning off only a 12-day rest.

    Here were the contenders with M/L and final odds.

    Win: #8 Afortunado (2-1/3-5), #2 Justonemoreround (6-1/23-1) and #7 Tommyleecat (3-1/24-1)

    Place and Show: #3 Talbot County (4-1/7-2)

    Since it does not pay off in the long run to play odds-on favorites to win, that wager would have to be on either of the 2 overlay contenders, but with odds of 23-1 and 24-1 a dutch win bet (both) would be the most sensible choice.

    Exotic wagers could have been constructed something like this:

    Ex.: box 2-7-8, 2-7/3 – (note: the 8-3 exacta probable payoff was too small to consider)
    Tri.: box 2-7-8, p/w 8/2-3-7/2-3-7

    The payoffs were:

    2 $48.00
    2-7 Exacta $281.20
    2-7-8 Trifecta $1,003.20

    This was a case in which the first 3 horses in the C.H. pace shape analysis finished in exact order for nice payoffs when Afortunado at .70 cents on the dollar could do no better than 3rd.

    All of these top 3 finishers came from off the quick pace set by Talbot County, who faded to 4th, 1/2 length behind the show horse.

    This wagering approach covered two different possibilities.

  • One of the longshot overlay contenders winning

  • The odds-on favorite winning

    Fortunately the former scenario materialized.

    Our second review race for this month was run on the same day as the first, 9/22/04, and it was Race 6 at Belmont Park.

    It's an example of using pace shape analysis in conjunction with internal fraction calculation/comparison and last-out gains and/or moves.

    With the late scratches of #5 Ardent Sister and #6 Wateree, 9 three-year-old and up fillies and mares went 6F at the N.Y.S.B. preliminary allowance level.

    You can view and/or print the p.p.'s for today's first review race by clicking here.

    And the results chart is here.

    As per the C.H. Data Report for this race, here were pertinent pace stats:

    Pace Shape Label: Advantage Early

    Running Style Recap: 5E 2EP 3P 1S (11)

    Pace Shape Analysis: [4] +1 > [2,9] +3 > [3] +1 > [10] +3 > [11] +3 > 1

    The pace shape analysis is an estimation of the order in which the early speed types (labeled E or EP) will arrive at the pace call, which in this case is after 4F had been run or near the top of the stretch.

    This is always the beginning point of my handicapping.

    A review of past performance listings is necessary for each horse in the race, including and beginning with those in the pace shape analysis.

    The numbers between the entries in the pace shape analysis are what I call quickness points, which have nothing to do with fractions or lengths.

    The farther back in the pace shape analysis rankings a horse is, the less chance he has to be in front at the pace call, and as an early speed type the more it needs to the show the ability to close, which can be measured by RFF and AFF calculations.

    In this match up, p.p.'s and pace shape analysis pointed to the top 3 ranked horses in that category of the handicapping process.

  • #4 Town Charmer had won her last wire to wire

  • #2 Angel in Harlem had flashed early speed during a 3-wide move before smoothly fading back to finish 3rd

  • #9 Twinkie Zone was exiting a speed/fade try going longer on grass

    On the other hand,

  • #3 April Trust was coming off a 199 day layoff

  • #10 Cajun Kelly had not run in 353 days

  • #11 Keesler had flashed speed for only a quarter of a mile before collapsing to 6th in a 7-horse field in her comeback try off a 133 day break

  • #1 Hope's Diamond was coming off an initial try against winners (after taking 12 tries to beat N.Y.S.B. special weights) with a complete non-effort breaking from the rail (which she would do again in this match up).

    Here was the field, including pertinent internal fraction stats:

    1. Hope's Diamond EP 48 25.3/25.4 ---

    2. Angel in Harlem E 64 25.3/25.4 ---

    3. April Trust EP 46 25.3/26.3 Stale Profile/W.O. play

    4. Town Charmer E 79 24.4/24.4 ---

    7. Tangled Heart P 25 25.3/30.0 ---

    8. Jettalyn S 49 24.4/25.3 ---

    9. Twinkie Zone E 54 25.3/27.4 WIR play

    10. Cajun Kelly E 36 25.2/27.1 ---

    11. Keesler E 17 25.3/26.3 ---

    So how do we tie all this information into a neat list of contenders?

    We've already identified the pace shape advantage horses as #'s 4, 2, and 9, and their internal fractions stack up well against their competition.

    #4 Town Charmer was a C.H. Best Play as the horse leading in the pace shape analysis as well as the actual final fraction category.

    The only knock on her was that her last was won in the mud at the N.Y.S.B. maiden special weight level, and that she would be facing winners for the first time in her 7th career try.

    #2 Angel in Harlem put in speed/fade efforts in her last 2 outings with competitive AFF's of 25.3 and 25.4.

    #9 Twinkie Zone had faded sharply in her last at a mile on turf, which gave her a less than competitive AFF of 27.4.

    But her only other 2 career tries resulted in AFF's of 25.3 in her first outing in the mud, and also in her follow up maiden-breaker when she beat Town Charmer by 8 lengths.

    Cutting back after showing speed for 6F in that turf route and being a "move-within-a-race" called the WIR play, she was the most logical choice among these.

    Combining pace shape analysis with internal fraction comparison and last-out gains or moves, as well as considering that three of these were stale (#3 April Trust 199 days, #8 Jettalyn 180 days, and #10 Cajun Kelly 353 days), my order of preference was (with M/L and final odds):

    Win: #9 Twinkie Zone (9-2/5-2) and #4 Town Charmer (5-1/3-1)

    Place and Show: #2 Angel in Harlem (4-1/9-2)

    My wagering strategy for this race was:

    Win on WIR play #9 Twinkie Zone, who was 2nd ranked in the pace shape analysis in a speed-favoring pace shape

    Ex.: in order of priority, 9-4, 9-2, 4-9, 4-2

    Tri.: part-wheel (p/w) 9/2-4/2-4, p/w 4-9/2-4-9/2-4-9

    The payoffs were:

    9 $7.90
    9-2 Exacta $32.60
    9-2-4 Trifecta $132.00

    Town Charmer took command during the first quarter (2 furlongs) of this race, and at the pace call (4 furlong point) the order was Town Charmer by a head over Twinkie Zone, who was 1 1/2 lengths clear of Angel in Harlem in 3rd.

    Twinkie Zone managed to hold on by a neck over Angel in Harlem, who was 3 1/4 ahead of Town Charmer, who held the show safe by 1 length.

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    Until Saturday November 6, 2004, I wish you Fair Skies and Fast Tracks.


    C.H. Handicapping - The Ultimate Approach!