February 16, 2001

Practical Pointer #6 (in a continuing series)
Bill Quirin was the father of serious racing research as we know it, and he will forever be remembered for making the bold and still accurate statement that "early speed is the universal track bias."

He boiled early speed down to its simplest aspect. Take the first quarter-mile of any race. Determine the leader. Long haul, that horse will win far more than its fair share of races, more races than the horses behind it, and still throw a flat-bet profit. You get the leader there, you're in fat city.

In a little research we've done over more than 1,800 races, horse that has a two-length lead or greater at the quarter mile--regardless of the race's distance, surface or class level--ended up winning more than 40 percent of the time. That is some serious advantage.

And it's not like you have to predict the leader at the wire or even at the half, where several horses are capable of challenging closely for the front. The first-call, opening-quarter-mile projections are less likely to be muddled by the noise generated by trip or a duel. Horses who want the lead bad enough will get it. (Yes, the first-call can be problematic in the event of a bad break or bumping at the start, but how can you predict that?)

But back to the two-length advantage. In a recent scan of races in February 2001, the long-term percentages have been pretty much maintained. From Feb. 1-7 in North American Thoroughbred racing, there were 144 first-call leaders whose lead was at least two lengths. Fifty-three of those guys ended up winning, close to 37 percent. Better yet, the prices on them were not anywhere near the short numbers associated with horses that win more than 33 percent of the time. You'll get some 5-1 and higher winners in any two-length-at-the-first-call sample you care to measure.

How do they do it? Rather than try to generalize the two-length-leader phenomenon and attempt to apply it to every race (which is nuts, since these tearaway leaders show up, on average, once a day at a track, no more than twice), let's look at the extreme cases.

The first extreme is the favorite who finishes off-the-board after getting a clear two-length lead at the quarter mile. These are some of the most reliable beasts around. Indeed, going back to that 1,800-race sample, the favorites in it who were able to secure a two-length lead or greater won an eye-popping 65 percent of the time! That suggests a worthy strategy right there.

So for a fave with that sort of advantage to run off the board, is not a good thing at all. It's rare (in the recent Feb. 1-7 scan, these legitimate faves finished off-the-board, on average, just once a day!). What do we know about these types, if there's anything at all instructive about them?

For what it's worth, the flameouts who are strictly gun-for-the-lead horses without any tractability at all, can get in trouble, especially as the faves. Believe it or not, they can go too fast too early, resulting in nothing left late. A rise in class is not helpful, nor is the surface switcher or first-time turfer who figures to go really fast in the early going. Especially when there are some talented closers in the field, these superfast-early faves can be vulnerable.

On the other hand, there are numerous two-length or greater leaders who aren't favored, who are actually going off at 5-1 or better and come home romping winners. These guys characteristically are strictly need-to-lead types, regardless of the presence of other need-to-lead types in the race. Opposite of the vulnerable frontrunning fave, these guys drop tend to drop a little, and given the price, these ignored frontrunners can never go too fast too early! (Price is a great way to look the other way in the face of a potential shortcoming!)

Spotting the good frontrunning things at prices is not too difficult, since they tend to emerge from the group that is 8-1 or better on the morning line, though some can be lower on the offiical track program. Typically, 4-1 is a good cutoff.

If you use ALL-IN-ONE V5, spot the two-length leaders using a combination of their Pace Type (look especially for those E- only horses), projections on the pace graph or and NTL (Need-To-Lead index).

Florida Derby Trail Winds Through Fountain of Youth
After a couple of weeks out of the major-race spotlight, the three-year-olds get back on track tomorrow in the Grade I Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park.

Outofthebox is the morning-line favorite, though he's been second in both his stakes tries. The locals have been oohing and aahing over his nice allowance win at Gulfstream last month. Is he better now than when he tried the upper levels before? Or is he inherently limited?

Global Gait will ship in from Southern California for trainer Bob Baffert, who recently snapped his Gulfstream losing streak with Captain Steve's win in the Donn. But as many feel, Baffert ships his second-tier sohpomores away from his Southern California base. Will he still have enough to beat the South Floridians?

City Zip has plenty of talent, though most of it was displayed last year when he was 2. He made an auspicious 2001 debut last time, closing to nearly run down Yonaguska at the seven-furlong distance. Will the return to a distance of ground (though around two turns) after that race under his belt wake him up? Six-to-one is a tempting number for any multiple graded stakes winner, isn't it?

Meetyouathebrig breaks from the dead outside in the 11-horse field, but with Patient Pat and good two-turn experience (OK, so it was in a six-and-a-half-furlong race at Fairplex!), maybe 10-1 isn't such a bad gamble, huh?

As is usually the case with races for three-year-olds in the spring, there are many, many more questions than answers. That's why these events can be upset, and why settling on a short price against unproven commodities is ridiculous.

The ALL-IN-ONE V5 outlook assigns value to both City Zip and Meetyouathebrig, given their morning-line odds.

Should be a great race to watch, if nothing else.

Practical Pointer #7 (in a continuing series)
A topic dearly related to nonclaiming three-year-olds is the first route try. Will it work, or will it flop?

Again using the "extremes" criteria for our two-length leaders, let's examine what's went on from Feb. 1-7 for first-routers who won at 5-1 or better, and first-routing faves who blew up off-the-board.

Unfortunately, these off-the-board faves are not too common--there were only two in that time span. One was a first-time straight maiden horse on dirt. The other was a second-off-the-layoff horse who might have bounced.

Conversely, seven first-routers won at better than 5-1, and they came mostly from maiden races on dirt, either claiming or special weight.

These types had a patient running style in their previous races, as exemplified from a moderate close in their winning debut route, suggesting they were misplaced in sprints and truly needed the extra route of ground.

Of course, some knowledge of the pedigree or the trainer's prowess in stretching horses out can never hurt. Sires and dams who are a combined oh-fer with the first-route move obviously are to be avoided, while marks go up for bloodlines and trainers who just do well with the first-route move.

Reminders and Other Announcements
The 2001 par times in their various formats (printed, diskette) and supplemental 2001 PARS PLUS materials are still on schedule to ship a week from today, earlier than ever. If you would like more information on them, go to our Handicapping Store and click on the products you want to check out. Even better, we've extended our special offer on them through March 10.

Also on the Cynthia Publishing Company Web site is information on our Big-Prize Handicapping Contest. You can win neat prizes and even cash.

Finally, we have wised up and archived past issues of On-Line at the Short Line, just in case you might have missed some previous material. Go to the Short Line link and click on the Archives link on that page.

We value your readership and hope your week goes well. See you in a week from now.

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