Why Pace Figures Are Better Than Speed Figures

I have often noted that, outside of the odds, few single factors are as predictive as speed figures when it comes to determining the winner of a thoroughbred horse race.

The problem is, everybody knows it.

Using my database of over 65,000 races, I obtained the following digits on horses with the sole best last-race Brisnet speed figure:

HIGHEST LAST-RACE BRISNET SPEED FIGURE

Number: 52,003
Winners: 15,235
Win Rate: 29.3%
$2 Net Return: $1.71
ROI: -14.72%

A 29 percent win rate is nothing to sneeze at, yet the $1.71 net return on a $2 wager is scarcely better than one could achieve by betting the morning line favorite, as the numbers below attest to:

SOLE MORNING LINE FAVORITE (ENTRIES AND RACES WITH TIES NOT CONSIDERED)

Number: 58,704
Winners: 19.590
Win Rate: 33.3%
$2 Net Return: $1.64
ROI: -18.16%

But pace figures, when used properly, can give players a huge edge. What do I mean by “used properly”? Well, in my opinion, pace figures are valuable when — and, really, only when — they reveal an exceptional effort, preferably one that other bettors fail to see or appreciate.

For example, in the 2013 Kentucky Derby, Palace Malice set the pace and recorded an insane -15 early speed ration (ESR). Not surprisingly, the top three finishers in that race all came from the clouds — Orb won after being in 16th-place early, Golden Soul was second after running 15th in the early stages and Revolutionary rounded out the trifecta after toiling in 18th-place after the opening four furlongs.

Palace-Malice

The converse was also true, as the top five runners at the first call faded to 12th, 14th, 18th, 17th and sixth, respectively.

Yet, given the -15 ESR, I’d have expected Palace Malice to be sucking wind at the back of the pack instead of beating over a third of the best three-year-olds in the country — ditto for the sixth-place finisher Oxbow.

Oxbow

The son of Awesome Again recorded a far more reasonable -10 ESR in the Run for the Roses, but followed that up with a nice, extended rally that saw him in second-place, a mere ½-length behind Normandy Invasion (who eventually finished fourth), turning for home.

Performances like this often bode well for the future, indicating a horse with superior talent or, at the very least, one in sharp form.

In this case, Oxbow went on to win the Preakness Stakes — a race that Palace Malice skipped — and pay $32.80. In the Belmont, both Palace Malice and Oxbow were present and they finished 1-2, with the former returning $29.60 and the latter completing a $323.50 exacta.

Speed Rations Explained

Derek Simon
Derek Simon is the Senior Editor and Handicapper at US Racing.
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