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Handicapping 101: Early Speed
by Gordon Pine

Okay class, let�s put away our books and prepare for a pop quiz. You think you�re a good handicapper? You may be right. But let�s test ourselves on our knowledge of one of the fundamental aspects of handicapping: early speed.

1. At the first call in the average race, the horse most likely to win is the:
A. Leading horse
B. Second horse
C. Third horse
D. Fourth horse

2. The ROI of horses who are in the rear half at the first call of the average race is:
A. About the same as the track take.
B. A little worse than the track take.
C. About .50 (you�d lose half your money betting on these horses).
D. About .40 (you�d lose about 60% of your money betting on these horses).

3. Come-from-behinders who finish in the money are more likely to:
A. Win
B. Place
C. Show

4. A horse with a clear early lead (a length or more in front of the next horse) is going to perform worst at which distance?
A. 5 to 6 furlongs
B. 6 � to 7 furlongs
C. 1 to 1 1/4 mile

5. If you have two early speed horses, you should favor the one near the rail. (True or False)

6. A horse with at least four speed points who has at least two more than its nearest rival is a strong speed point leader. A study of these strong speed point leaders generated an ROI of:
A. .50 (lose 50 cents per dollar bet)
B. .78 (lose 22 cents per dollar bet)
C. 1.00 (break-even)
D. 1.10 (10 cents profit per dollar bet)

7. Which track has the highest win percentage for leaders at the first call?
A. Santa Anita
B. Hollywood Park
C. Bay Meadows
D. Remington Park

8. Which is the best way to predict the leader at the first call?
A. First call times in similar races.
B. Adjusted (by track/surface/distance/variant) first call times in similar races.
C. First call position and beaten lengths in recent races.
D. Velocity figures for the first fraction.

9. The average odds of the first call leader is:
A. 8/5
B. 5/2
C. 7/2
D. 9/2

10. When handicapping a sprint, early speed in a sprint last race is a positive sign, especially if:
A. The horse always runs early.
B. The horse was in an outside post position, surprisingly ran close up early, and then faded.
C. The horse won from an inside post.
D. The horse is rising in class this race.


1. A.. The leader at the first call has practically taken over the role of favorite. In one study, it had a 26% chance of winning the race, compared to the second horse�s 16% chance of winning, and so on in diminishing percentages. These percentages are averages, and vary greatly by track and other factors.

2. D. In a study by Quirin, the ROI of horses in the rear of the pack at the first call was .38. If your picks are regularly trailing at the first call, it�s time to re-evaluate the importance of early speed. It�s hard to overcome a 62% disadvantage with good handicapping.

3. C. Horses rallying from the rear half of the field are more likely to show than place, and more likely to place than win.

4. B. While clear leaders do well even in the long sprint category, their 18% win rate is far less than the 33% win rate for shorter sprints and the 29% win rate for routes. Even so, their 1.15 ROI (assuming the unlikely event that you could bet the race after the horses had reached the first call) shows that a horse that gets a clear lead is a good wager.

5. False. In a study Quirin did of horses in an early speed duel, the outside horse actually had a slight win% and ROI advantage over the inside horse.

6. D. These strong speed point leaders actually generated a mechanical profit in one study. Caution: dominant early speed is still a good bet, but not necessarily a source of automatic profits.

7. C. Bay Meadows has, over the years, been one of the most early-speed-favoring tracks in the country.

8. C. Quirin�s speed point method, based on first call position and beaten lengths, is the best way to predict early speed today.

9. D. Early speed horses are not generally overbet. Their odds are often generous.

10. B. When a horse runs "surprise" early speed and then fades, it tends to be a good condition sign. This is especially true if the horse was near the outside in a sprint, because the jockey may have pushed him too much to avoid being caught in traffic around the turn. If the horse gets a more inside post today, his moderate early speed and improving fitness will be an advantage.

10 correct: Potential handicapping god
8-9 correct: Top notch handicapper
5-7 correct: Good, but need a refresher course
3-4 correct: Fundamentals are weak
0-2 correct: Better take up keno

Remedial reading:
Winning at the Races by William Quirin
Beyer on Speed by Andrew Beyer
Horse Racing Logic by Glendon Jones
The Race is Pace by Huey Mahl


Copyright �2002 NetCapper Inc. All rights reserved.

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