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Track Tracts

The Second Call For Threes
by Gordon Pine

In another six weeks or so, on January 1, all thoroughbreds will celebrate their common birthday. While you�re nursing a hangover and watching the Rose Parade, the yearlings will quietly become two-year-olds, the two-year-olds will become three-year-olds, and the three-year-olds will become four-year-olds. It�s an important birthday for the new twos � they become eligible to start their racing career. But the date is probably most important for the new batch of three-year-olds.

The threes become eligible for a whole new series of races. As the year progresses, they will sort themselves out according to ability and start to meet older horses. Many of the threes will never win a race and will disappear from the racing scene. Others will quickly find themselves in progressively cheaper claiming races. A minority will move up their conditions from maiden special weight, through the non-winners allowance series. The very talented few will compete for stakes races, including the Triple Crown.

Three-year-olds are not fully mature horses. Think of them, in human terms, as late teenagers. They tend to be limber and fast. They are strong and sound, but they haven�t quite reached the apex of their ability yet, assuming they can remain sound through the latter part of their three- and four-year-old seasons. Plus, they are often overeager and inexperienced.

A hallmark of thoroughbred experience is tractability: the ability to relax during the running of a race sufficiently so there is energy left when the jockey chooses to push the button. Two-year-olds are notorious for their lack of tractability. Once out of the gate, they tend to run as fast as they can all the way around. A two that has the ability to get out in front early often has the ability to take it all the way, and becomes, in essence, the new heavy favorite to win the race a quarter of a mile after the start. In fact, one of the best predictors in two-year-old races is the projection of who will be in front after two furlongs.

"The ability to be in front at the second call is an important predictor for three-year-olds."

Just as the ability to be in front after two furlongs is an important predictor for two-year-olds, the ability to be in front at the second call (by this I mean after four furlongs in a sprint and six furlongs in a route) is an important predictor for three-year-olds. It comprises another one of the soft spots I�ve often talked about. As you may know by now through my constant yammering, random win betting will generate an ROI of about .78 (22 cents loss per dollar bet). Any time you can find a subset that improves upon that ROI, you�ve made the game of handicapping easier for yourself. A soft spot is a stepping stone toward possible profitability. In a sample covering the last three years, the horse I projected in front at the second call in three-year-old-only races won 23% of the time (2700 wins out of 11,606 races) for an ROI of .91. This represents a loss of only 9 cents per dollar bet as opposed to the benchmark loss of 22 cents per dollar bet.

Many threes seem to have developed enough maturity and tractability to relax a bit out of the gate. But coming around the far turn and into the stretch, a three with the lead is a dangerous thing. (A nice thing if his number is on your ticket.)

To predict the leader at the first call, techniques such as speed points are best. Speed points reflect a horse�s desire to get out in front more than his quality. But to be in front at the second call, it takes more than desire. It also takes ability. In a horse race, anaerobic exercise is replaced by aerobic exercise after about three furlongs. At that point, a thoroughbred�s ability to run is dictated by aerobics and the physical capacity of his heart and lungs. A handicapper needs to look at how fast each contender has run to the second call in previous races. A three-year-old with the desire (speed points) and ability (second call projections) to be out in front at the second call should be highlighted as a possible bet. A little discriminating handicapping should be able to put these horses into positive ROI territory. NC

Copyright �2001 NetCapper Inc. All rights reserved.

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