Understanding Pace: A
Cup of Gas
Pace is one of the most complicated areas of handicapping. I read and heard a lot about pace handicapping during my early years as a handicapper, but it took a long time for it to make sense to me. This was probably partly my fault and partly the fault of the guys who wrote about it. It�s easy to get caught up in clich�s and jargon and not explain what�s really happening. So some horses run early, some horse run late � shouldn�t it all be a wash in the long run? Why does pace make a difference? How does it work?
Back in college, when faced with a tough course like statistics, I would get the easiest kid�s book I could find that covered the subject and read that before tackling the difficult stuff. That way, I understood the broad outlines of the subject better before I got into the fine-print textbooks. The Cartoon Guide to Statistics was a good introduction to statistics for me. One definition of learning might be turning a concept into an image in your mind (Mr. Right Brain, say hello to Mr. Left Brain), so comic books are particularly well-suited to teaching difficult subjects. Somebody needs to write The Cartoon Guide to Pace Handicapping. I can�t draw, so it won�t be me. But I can try to present the broad outlines of my understanding of pace.
Pace involves an interplay of three main factors:
1. The capacity of horses to maintain a fast pace (ability)
Each race involves these three factors in different ways and in varying degrees, which makes pace handicapping an ever-changing puzzle to be analyzed race-by-race. (It�s not equally important in all races, though � a topic I�ll cover later.) Right now I�d like to talk about ability. I�ll leave need-to-lead and track pace bias to later articles.
I think it was Dick Schmidt who once mentioned this analogy: we should think about each horse as having just one cup of gas for fuel. As they go around the track, they�re steadily burning their gasoline. If they accelerate, they�re gulping it down. Every horse is in danger of running out of fuel before they hit the finish line. Most horses have enough petro for one acceleration only. Once the gas is gone, the race is pretty much over for that contestant, except for coasting to a stop.
This analogy explains a lot of things. Habitual frontrunners have their period of high acceleration in the early part of the race. They want to be in front of the other horses. If there�s not a lot of competition for the early lead, this early acceleration can be an easy process, leaving most of the cup of gas intact for later challenges. That�s why an easy lead is such a valuable advantage for frontrunners.
Track pace bias comes into play in situations like this. If you have a non-tiring track, as most dirt tracks in America are, the burst of early acceleration of a habitual frontrunner will not drain the cup. In effect, frontrunners regularly get an almost free lead of two to ten lengths over slow starters. No wonder early speed is called the universal bias. However, if you have a tiring surface, as are some off-tracks, many American turf courses, a few American dirt tracks, and most European courses, there is a heavy toll paid by habitual frontrunners. Early acceleration over a tiring surface quickly drains the cup of gas, leaving little left for the rest of the race. That�s why closers predominate on these courses.
Horses who run on their own rather than among other horses also have an advantage. When horses run next to each other, their competitive instincts will often cause them to go head-to-head in little inter-call bursts of speed that have the effect of burning up some of both horses� precious cups of fuel. A relaxed trip without competition preserves the gas for the stretch run.
Closers tend to have more fuel left in their cup in the stretch. If the frontrunners don�t have an insurmountable lead and are running out of gas, closers have the advantage. Luckily for frontrunners, in most situations, they�ve saved enough fuel or have a big enough lead to prevail.
The cup-of-gas analogy helps explain class, too. Some horses just have bigger gas tanks than others. Point Given looks like his tank holds a pint of gas compared to his competitors� cup. Gary Stevens intimated that Point Given probably had more left in the tank after The Travers. I�d say he probably had a good three-quarters of a cup left.
So, visualize the first panel in The Cartoon Guide to Pace Handicapping: each horse is like a big engine with only one cup of fuel. That�s part of the dynamic that often makes pace so important to the race.NC
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