Uncovering Past Ability

There are many schools of thought regarding what pace line to use when assessing an entrant. Conventional thinking points to using the last or next-to-last running line. Sometimes, neither one of those two running lines offers a good basis of the horse’s true ability.

In a previous article, I discussed identifying when to give the horse a pass for an excusable performance. You may not have a choice but to use this running line if there is nothing else applicable in the horse’s past performances to use. Other times, you will find that you are digging pretty deep down the running lines to find one that works.

How far back should you go to try to find an applicable running line for your pace analysis?

The simple answer is that you should go as far back as it takes to find the right running line. You need to find a race that is at today’s distance and surface and also one where the horse was in the proper class and wasn’t the victim of a troubled trip.

A great example of needing to dig a bit deeper was evident on Sept. 28, 2016 in race seven at Penn National. The race was carded at five and half furlongs over the main track for state-bred fillies and mares running for a claiming price of $7,500 that had never won two races (N2L). When I started to do my pace analysis, most of the entrants offered relatively recent running lines for consideration except for two of the entrants.


The morning line favorite in this race was Piano Keys. Despite eight career starts, we had to go back to her first two career efforts to find a usable pace line.

The five starts over the turf can be dismissed. Three back was a route over a sloppy track, which can also be tossed. Evaluating the two remaining sprints yields a similar pace-based speed rating (PBR) regardless of which race is selected for analysis.


Barn Duty can be excused for the last two routes in her past performances. Three back she had a troubled trip and four back she had a troubled trip over a sloppy track around two turns. Five races back she had a troubled trip and her sixth race back was a turf route. Her seventh race back was against state-bred allowance company where she was outclassed. This leaves us with her eighth race back on May 12, 2016 for analysis.


The table above shows how the race set up after digging through the past performances to get usable pace lines for Piano Keys and Barn Duty. The other five entrants had a recent usable race in either their last or next-to-last race.

Even though the favorite, Piano Keys, had shown the best speed figures of late, they masked her ability in the conditions of this race. Reviewing the adjusted second-call times and resulting PBRs, Barn Duty stands out as the critical pace horse (CPH). She had a distinct pace advantage over the field by three-fifths of a second.


Ultimately, it was Spring Chicken who tried for the early lead at a faster pace than she is comfortable with. Spring Chicken and the horse that pressed her, Sweet Candy, both could not last on the lead and gave way to the strong presser, Barn Duty. Piano Keys didn’t show much as the morning line favorite and second-lowest post-time betting interest.

There are no absolutes when selecting pace lines. While it is nice to see a recent usable race, we are often forced to dig a little deeper to find the pace line that is most indicative of how a horse can run under today’s conditions.

Ray Wallin
Ray Wallin is a licensed civil engineer and part-time handicapper who has had a presence on the Web since 2000 for various sports and horse racing websites and through his personal blog. Introduced to the sport over the course of a misspent teenage summer at Monmouth Park by his Uncle Dutch, a professional gambler, he quickly fell in love with racing and has been handicapping for over 25 years.

Ray’s background in engineering, along with his meticulous nature and fascination with numbers, parlay into his ability to analyze data; keep records; notice emerging trends; and find new handicapping angles and figures. While specializing in thoroughbred racing, Ray also handicaps harness racing, Quarter Horse racing, baseball, football, hockey, and has been rumored to have calculated the speed and pace ratings on two squirrels running through his backyard.

Ray likes focusing on pace and angle plays while finding the middle ground between the art and science of handicapping. When he is not crunching numbers, Ray enjoys spending time with his family, cheering on his alma mater (Rutgers University), fishing, and playing golf.

Ray’s blog, which focuses on his quest to make it to the NHC Finals while trying to improve his handicapping abilities can be found at www.jerseycapper.blogspot.com Ray can also be found on Twitter (@rayw76) and can be reached via email at ray.wallin@live.com.

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