Speed Points Pointers
The best method I�ve found to predict who�s going to get the early lead in a race is an old one: William Quirin�s speed points. It�s a fairly quick paper-and-pencil method that dates back to Quirin�s excellent 1979 book Winning at the Races. If you�re a handicapper who has never calculated speed points, I recommend it as a good starting point when handicapping a race using the Racing Form. Here�s how it works:
Each horse will end up with a speed point total from 0 to 8 points. Look for three ratable races, starting with the horse�s last race and moving backwards, but never go more than five races back.
Calculating Speed Points in Sprint Races: Each horse starts with one point. Look at a horse�s last race. It can get from 0 to 2 points for each ratable race. If it was a route, the horse gets 0 points (Exception: If the horse was within one length at the first call of the route, pass that race and move onto the race before it). If it was a sprint in which the horse was third or better at the first call, the horse gets a point. If it was within two lengths of the leader at the first call, it gets another point (Exception: for 7 furlong ratable races, the horse must have been leading at the first call). If neither of these applies, the horse gets 0 points for that ratable race. You then move onto the race before that, until you�ve rated three races. After rating three races for each horse, you have from 1 to 7 points for each horse. You now either add one point or subtract one point from the total. If the horse has 7 points and was within a neck of the leader at the first call of all of its ratable races, it gets a bonus point for a grand total of 8. If the horse has 1 point and was in the rear half of the field in all of its ratable races, or if all its last 5 races were routes, and it was not within one length of the leader in any of them, it loses a point for a grand total of 0.
Calculating Speed Points in Route Races: Each horse starts with one point. Look at a horse�s last race. It can get from 0 to 2 points for each ratable race. If the ratable race was a route in which the horse was third or better at the first call, the horse gets a point. If the horse was also within three lengths at the first call, it gets a second point. Now, if the ratable race was a sprint in which the horse was within six lengths at the first call, it gets a point. If the horse was also either third or better at the first call or within three lengths of the leader at the first call, it gets a second point. After rating three races for each horse, you have from 1 to 7 points for each horse. You now either add one point or subtract one point from the total. If the horse has 7 points and was within a one length of the leader at the first call of each of its ratable routes and/or within three lengths of the leader in each of its ratable sprints, it gets a bonus point for a grand total of 8. If the horse has 1 point and was in the rear half of the field in all of its ratable routes, it loses a point for a grand total of 0.
You must make adjustments for horses who had less than three ratable races. If a horse only had one ratable race and earned 1 point in that race, add 2 more points to its grand total; if it earned 2 points in that race, add 3 more points to its grand total. If a horse had only two ratable races and earned 2 or more total points in those races, add 1 more point to its grand total.
Calculating speed points may seem a little complicated at first. But if you do if for a few races, the rules become second nature, and you can breeze through the horses, giving them speed point totals as fast as you can jot them down.
Once you have the speed point total for all the horses, take a look at the whole field. You now have a very accurate idea of who is going to be where at the first call of the race. The high need-to-lead horses with speed point totals of 6 or higher will nearly always be in front. The low need-to-lead horses with speed point totals of 2 or less will nearly always be trailing. And the rest will be somewhere in the middle.
Speed points provide one of the best ways to get a preview of the pace of a race. They also allow the use of a few angles:
Horses with Zero Speed Points (negative angle): These slowpokes can be eliminated from dirt races. According to Quirin, they win less than 8% of the time, with an abysmal ROI of .56.
Need-To-Lead But Can�t (negative angle): This angle is concerned with high need-to-lead horses, those with speed point totals of 6 or more. These horses habitually push for the front. Look for situations where the horse can�t get the easy lead that it wants. Find the fastest first call time (by this I mean two furlongs or around 22 seconds for sprints, and four furlongs or around 46 seconds for routes) that the high need-to-lead horse has ever run and then gone on to win a race. Just use the old "quick and dirty" rule of 1/5 second for each beaten length. For instance, if the high need-to-lead horse was one length back in a sprint that ran 22 4/5 for the first call, its time would be 23 seconds. Scan through the other horses� records. Are there other horses in the field who regularly run faster than 23 seconds to the first call? If so, it�s a serious negative for this horse. Don�t eliminate the horse on these grounds alone. But its chances should be downgraded, especially for the win spot.
Two-Plus Speed Point Advantage: Quirin found that horses with at least 4 speed points who had an advantage of two or more speed points over their nearest competitor in the race won 20% of the time for a 1.10 ROI. These horses ended up leading at the first call more than 55% of the time.
The Return On Investment figures that Quirin wrote of may or may not hold up 22 years later. My suspicion is that they would be in the same ballpark. But the benefits of an early lead remain clear. If you could magically bet on the first call leader of every race, you�d be rich in short order. Unfortunately, even speed points won�t give you that kind of 100% prescience. But they�re the best predictors I know for discerning the first call leader before post time.NC
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