November 16, 2001

(Odds) Down in Front!
Favorites are easy to bash, but one subset of public choices has perennially proven to be very tough to bring down. Moreover, these short-priced chances hold terrific profit potential.

Specifically, it's the favorite who can eke out some kind of lead at the opening quarter-mile mark of any race who wins at an extraordinary rate while paying solid-enough mutuels to make it worthwhile, or at least something to consider.

Of course, numerous studies have demonstrated the power of being on the lead after the first two furlongs of the running, regardless of distance, surface, class, age, gender, track condition, any of it. Problem is, no past performances on Earth will infallibly point out whether the favorite (or any other horse) will make the lead when it matters most -- today.

The variables are many, most notably the trip. A bad start, a little bumping, the vagaries of time and space converging at the gate. Those are the obvious physical realities of the opening strides of the race.

Then there are the made-up constructs, the handicapping considerations, things like a drop in class, a horse stretching out for the first time, adding blinkers or being paired up with a more aggressive-early rider. There are many more, but these are the most apparent. In short, with a multitude of seemingly random variables affecting the outcome of the race through the first 1,320 feet, predicting the frontrunner (and favored frontrunner) has to be a daunting task, right?

Not at all. After all, what's easier to do -- pick the winner of an entire race, or just the race at the end of the opening quarter? If you had to do both for every race, which do you think would yield you the better success rate? A superb handicapper would be hard-pressed to come up with the winning horse more than a third of the time. But that same handicapper could easily predict who would make the lead at the two-furlong stage with at least 50 percent accuracy.

Limit the discussion to post-time favorites, and the handicapping becomes even simpler, much more focused. And now for the numbers.

Favorites who secure the advantage early on prevail at a gaudy 45 percent rate, minimum, when the lead is at least a length at that stage. Shoot the margin up a little to a length-and-a-half or two lengths, and it's almost automatic. For exotics players, the in-the-money rate is an astronoical, calling for "given" status in trifecta and superfecta inclusion.

So, how do you find these frontrunning standouts? Start out slow, interestingly enough. Don't force the issue in races in which the opening-quarter-mile tendencies of the horses haven't yet been clearly established. That means put a hold on races in which there are second-time starters, or turf races with a bunch of horses trying the surface for the first time. Settle on a few dirt sprint races, particularly in the claiming and stakes ranks, where most of the entrants have repeatedly run under similar conditions.

Typify the favorite's quarter-mile times and see how they compare with the typical early clockings of its competition. A two-length advantage is good enough, and often points out a horse who is a very strong candidate to take 'em all the way.

The Breeders' Cup Sprint wasn't enough. Tomorrow's Frank J. DeFrancis Memorial Dash Stakes at Laurel brings together seven horses, four of whom chased Squirtle Squirt unsuccessfully three weeks ago!

What happened in the BC Sprint was that Xtra Heat drew the rail, and was forced to gun for the lead, or else. Caller One, a horse who had never been behind at the half-mile mark, was chasing Xtra Heat. Could it have been predicted?

The post positions dictated as much, but a closer look at the HDW/Cramer Pace Ratings for the race projected a slight edge for the filly in the first place. She breaks inside Caller One again, and that might mean a replay of the early running of their last encounter.

Add that she's four-for-four at Laurel (Caller One hasn't as much trained on the surface) and she looks good. But Kona Gold has been installed as the 3-2 morning-line favorite. Now what?

It's not a good sign for Kona Gold that his final-time figures have been in decline in his last two, both as the favorite. When the old warriors lose a step, it's quite difficult for them to get it back. Witness recent standouts Beautiful Pleasure, Silverbulletday and Captain Steve, who were at the top of the sport when their ability numbers began slipping. True, Tiznow came back to his former glory, but his freakish performance has to be the exception.

With Xtra Heat and Caller One knocking heads on the front end, many will look from behind for an upsetter. Early Flyer, though he beat Squirtle Squirt over the summer, just isn't terribly fast, and trainer McAnally isn't the best at coming off the bench. Delaware Township is in the bad case of being a 'tweener in here -- too slow to lead, but when he rallies, his figures don't seem to measure up. Say Florida Sandy hasn't been at his best lately.

It looks like a battle royale, then, up top, and while a win bet is a dicey proposition, beating Kona Gold out of the exacta is not. We'll try a cold box of the furious frontrunners: Xtra Heat and Caller One.

More from Laurel
Since we all know about the favored frontrunner, it's time to open things up with potential frontrunners that aren't favored. No, they don't win as often, but the tradeoff is a good one: better mutuels.

In the third, Antagonist breaks from the friendly rail with a large heaping of early speed on her side. Worth a cheap thrill for the lead turning for home.

Ditto Steppedoutofadream in the sixth, the Thirty Eight Go Go Stakes at a mile-and-an-eighth for older females. She should be on her own in the early going.

New Contest Is for the Long Run
If you prefer a route of ground to a one-turn sprint, the current edition of the Big-Prize Handicapping Contest is for you! For more details, please click here.

Check Out the Goods in the NEW Handicapping Store...
...including a very special offer. It's waiting for you -- please click here to read all about it.

We appreciate your comments about this newsletter. Please send them to our staff. Thank you!