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Track Tracts

Favorite Fitness Angles: 
Competitive Race on an Off-Track Last Time

by Gordon Pine

One of the best ways to get an edge on a race is to be able to accurately predict a change in a horse�s level of performance. The betting public as a whole doesn�t deal well with change. They tend to expect horses to repeat the last race over and over. The horses rarely cooperate. They�re usually improving or declining, often for mysterious reasons. A toolkit of fitness angles is just the thing to help predict what a horse is going to do today. In a good fitness angles toolkit, each angle may show up only occasionally, but as a group, there�s usually one or more of them that are applicable to a race, and that�s often all you need.

Competitive race on an off-track last time out is one of my favorite fitness angles. I�ve never tested it before now, but have used it successfully for years. The idea is that a horse who has run a trying race will be likely to regress next time out. The off track condition is the important factor. Off tracks, with some exceptions, tend to be more tiring. A hard race over a wet surface takes a lot more out of a horse than a hard race over a fast track.

"A hard race over a wet surface takes a lot more out of a horse than a hard race over a fast track."

To verify this, I did a "paper-and-pencil" test. I looked for dirt races where the track condition was other than fast, and the horse had been within two lengths of the leader at either the stretch call or the finish. Being close up at either of those calls indicates that the horse put some effort into the race. I looked at the how much the horse�s Beyer figure improved or declined after such a race.

Here are the results:

Improved:         24/72            33%      Average improvement: +6.1 points
Same                 5/72               7%     N/A
Declined           43/72             60%     Average decline: -13.4 points

Happily, the test confirmed this old angle. Horses are almost twice as likely to decline after a competitive race over an off-track as they are to improve. And when they do decline, it tends to be a sharper deterioration compared to the amount of improvement shown by the one-third of those who do get better. The 33% who improve only do so by an average of 6.1 Beyer points; the 60% who worsen show an average decline of 13.4 Beyer points. (The sample size is small, so anyone with access to a database that could answer a query of this type, please feel free to post your results on The Grandstand message board. Hopefully separate samples will confirm this angle.)

One caveat: you should be careful applying this angle to stakes and handicap horses. In my limited sample, they seem to be an exception to the rule. That makes sense, because these horses are fitter, have less ailments, and are given more time between starts to get into top shape.

So, if you find yourself in a situation where one of the top three favorites in a race ran a competitive race on an off surface last time, you may be able to create an edge on the race by downgrading that horse�s chances.  NC

Copyright �2001 NetCapper Inc. All rights reserved.

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