Handicapping for
Speed in Sprints

The first step I take when handicapping sprint races, especially 6F sprint races, is to take a quick look at the pace shape of the match up in question.

What I do is note how many early runners there are versus the number of late runners. Is there a perceived advantage for either style? The rule of thumb is that the style with fewer runners has the advantage.

In other words, in an 8-horse 6F sprint race with 2 early runners and 6 late runners, the horses with early speed should have an advantage over the others. I say should, because there are other things that have to be factored into the equation.

But often when there is a situation in which the speed appears to have the advantage, it can and does go all the way or nearly all theway on top. The race out of all others in which early speed (often called simply speed or the speed) has the biggest advantage is the six furlong race.

Taking into consideration all racetracks in North America, there is an extremely high percentage of winners of 6F dirt races that are within 2 lengths of the lead at the pace call, and usually also at the 2F call.

The 2F point in the race is at the beginning of the turn, and the pace call is when 4F have been completed, which is right about at the top of the stretch. Not having a database with thousands of races at my disposal, I can only estimate, but I would bet I’m close in my estimation that between 70% and 80% of all 6F sprint races on dirt in North America are won by horses that are on or within 2 lengths of the lead at the top of the stretch (pace call).

Does this mean we should play the speed in every sprint? No, because as I say, other factors have to be taken into consideration, like pace shape, running styles of all entries, any prevailing track bias, class drops or hikes, last-out moves, and more.

The 6F sprint race, however, in my opinion does offer us many pace advantage opportunities, including the one I will discuss here.

The race I’m going to review is one for which I wrote an analysis on my Free Picks page on Sunday August 4th 2002. It was for the 7th race at Saratoga, a 6F sprint for NW2X (non-winners of 2 races other than maiden, claiming, starter or restricted - like state-breds) allowance horses.

Following is what appeared on my Free Picks page August 4th, 2002.

1. Redhead Riot (8-1) (5-1) – (official morning line) (my value line)
3. Zawzooth (7-2) (5-2)
7. Bel Baie (3-1) (2-1)

#1 Redhead Riot adds blinkers for her 7th career try, coming off a very gutsy wire-to-wire win. She fended off all challengers in that score, which could be significant in this match up as she moves up from the preliminary allowance level to non-winners of 2 other than company. In a field loaded with front running types, I project Redhead Riot to be the speed of the speed, and if she turns for home with a clear lead she has a good shot to go on for the win at a square price.

#3 Zawzooth also broke through for her first allowance win when she accelerated for a 2-length tally for her 2nd straight visit to the winner’s circle. She earned the best last-out FF of 24.2, and should be coming on strongly in the 6th furlong.

#7 Bel Baie has gone well in her 2 tries in N.Y., winning at 7F (24.1 FF) and finishing 2nd in her first try at this level (co-best 24.2 FF), and looms a threat for Frankel/Chavez.

As you can see in the p.p.’s, this field was top heavy with early runners. I said previously that the running style, early or late, with the fewest is usually the one with the advantage. In a case like this, however, when 75% of the field (6 of 8) are early runners, it’s a better bet that the winner (and possibly the place horse also) will come from the speed group.

In my book "Calibration Handicapping – The Next Level" (click here) I have a section entitled, “Speed of the Speed”, in which I reveal my techniques for determining which horse from a group of early runners is most likely to emerge with the lead at the pace call or top of the stretch in a 6F sprint.

Often such a horse, who can be considered the dominant front runner, will have enough energy to go on strongly for the remaining 2 furlongs (or quarter mile) and win the race.

In a situation like this one, it’s not necessarily going to be a boat race with the first two or three horses out of the gate in the same order under the wire, but unless one of the 2 closers has a fantastic last-out final fraction advantage, there is likely to be a 1-2 finish from among the early runners.

According to my speed of the speed formula, #1 Redhead Riot was clearly the horse that projected to have the lead as the field turned for home. She may have had her work cut out for her since she would be facing NW2X company for the first time, but with the addition of blinkers for this try coupled with her strong and gutsy last-out win, she was a good bet at good value.

What about other contenders? From the remaining 7 entries, there were 2 what I refer to as “move-within-a-race” horses and 4 horses with good last-out final fractions. This would be the logical group from which to pick a 2nd and 3rd finisher to use in exacta and trifecta plays.

The last-out “move” horses were, in post position order:

2. Savorthetime – T/M play having last run at Churchill 37 days earlier.9. Imaginary Gold – SRE play, one of only 2 4-year-olds in the field, who last won by 6¾ at the preliminary allowance level at Monmouth Park 2 weeks earlier.

The last-out final fraction contenders were, in post position order:

2. Savorthetime – 24.3
3. Zawzooth – 24.2
7. Bel Baie – 24.2
9. Imaginary Gold – 24.3

This then was the full list of 5 preliminary contenders for this 6F sprint race. The speed of the speed #1 Redhead Riot, who in this situation of so many early runners projected to be the dominant early horse, had to be considered as the key or number 1 contender.

Since I strongly stress final fractions, I had to like #3 Zawzooth and #7 Bel Baie as my 2nd and 3rd choices. In an 8-horse field like this one, I will list only 3 contenders, thus my listed order of preference of 1-3-7.

But that does not mean I won’t use any other “periphery” contenders to fill out exacta and trifecta plays. Hopefully the readers of Calibration Handicapping – The Next Level" saw things the same way and constructed wagers the way I did, which was:

Win bet on #1 Redhead Riot

Exacta Box 1-3 and 1-7

Trifecta Box 1-3-7, the $2 cost for which being $12, Part-Wheel 1/3-7/2-3-7-9, including the periphery plays in the show slot, at a $2 wager cost of $12 also.

Or some wager construction along those lines that would include the periphery plays. One could even have used them in the place spot in exactas.

The payoffs were generous as evidenced by the results chart with #1 Redhead Riot winning a stretch long duel by a nose over #3 Zawzooth to pay $27.20 to win with the exacta returning $105.50. #7 Bel Baie missed completing a cold trifecta when coming up short for 3rd by a neck. But the trifecta came back a solid $939.00 when #9 Imaginary Gold got the nod for show with #2 Savorthetime finishing 5th.

Keep an eye out for situations like this and you will cash your share of win, exacta, and trifecta tickets.

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