In my early punting years that I recall so fondly, I remember being at the TAB with my Dad and one horse specifically was the light bulb moment for me when it came to horse racing.
That horse was Racer’s Edge, and I was sixteen years old. Like most, up until then I just thought the best and fastest horse should win all the races, and when they didn’t it was because of bad luck, bad rides or crooked bookies!
Racer’s Edge changed all that. He was a good quality sprinter, but no superstar. He was by Rory’s Jester so I could never imagine him getting past 1200 metres, but in the autumn of 1996 he won three straight weight-for-age races from 1400m to 1800m, beating high-class horses like Mahogany, Jeune, Paris Lane, Circles of Gold, Starstruck and others.
The way he did it was by sitting on a very slow speed, and then using his superior short sprint to beat better quality horses who didn’t have time to wind up.
When I came to the realisation that just that one variable – pace of the race – could overcome the class of a horse, everything changed for me.
The fastest horse doesn’t always win, otherwise they would race in lanes or time trials, and that would be boring. The beauty of the sport is the race itself and all the variables that can occur, and how they can be interpreted differently.
Pace of the race became the foundation of how I would look at a race, both in review and in doing the form for a future race: how the map looks, which horses should or should’ve been suited by the shape of the race, and conversely which have things against them.
Generally speaking, the faster the early pace is in a race the more suited backmarkers should be, as the leaders tire late. Similarly, if there is little early pace in a race, then those on the speed go slow: enough to be able to sprint home fast and make it very hard for backmarkers to pick them up, no matter how good they are.
A recent example of this was when Astern was taken back to last behind Russian Revolution. In that race Russian Revolution ran the 1st 600m in 35.70 seconds, and the last 600m in 33.38. Astern reeled off sectionals that were phenomenal, but given the pace of the race and where it settled, it was a mathematical impossibility for it to win.
So the first thing I would do – and still do – when reviewing a race is to give it a pace rating, with 1 being a very slowly run race, and 20 being a race where the leaders have gone very quickly. This would then give me a guide as to how it suited each horse, depending on their settling position in the run.
To determine the pace of the race, the simplest way is to break the race into two parts: up to the 600m mark, and from the 600m to the finish. Then find the average, as expressed per 200m. In the above example, the first 600m is run at an average of 11.9 seconds per 200m, and the last 600m in 11.13 seconds. So you can see how the pace was slow early, and then it was a real sprint home. Horses don’t run much faster than low 33s over 600m.
As you get more advanced, you can look at sectionals in 200m increments to give a more detailed view of a race. In understanding how a race was run, and which horses were suited or not, the 800 – 600 and 600 – 400 sectionals are of particular interest to me. Others find different sectionals more useful.
Pace also plays an important role in how you factor in other variables when reviewing the race as a whole. For instance, horses that are able to sit wide without cover and still be competitive are suited to slowly run races, but are rarely suited in solidly run races and usually need forgiving.
Checks in running, and the importance you place on them and their loss of momentum, are also viewed differently as the pace of the race increases. Likewise factors such as missing the start, or working early hard in the race to find a settling position.
When it comes to doing the form for a future race, having an idea of what the map will look like is of utmost importance, and this is where barriers come into play.
There are two schools of thought when it comes to doing maps.
One way is to go with the horses with the fastest early speed, favouring those closer to the rail, and work from there.
However, given the propensity of riders in Australia who place so much importance on being one or two off the rail, I prefer to start from the inside gate and work outwards when drawing my maps. But like most things, you will find whatever method suits you.
Either way, you need to have an idea of how fast they will be going, how much work various horses will have to do to find their spots, and therefore who is likely to be suited or not. It’s by no means an exact science and even the maps of the best professional analysts are often wrong. But like most things when doing the form, it’s just about getting a general idea of what is more likely than not to occur.
Next week, we’ll talk more about what to look for when reviewing a race, and how statistical analysis and the data revolution has opened doors in racing in the last few years.
Part 1: Solving the puzzle
Part 2: Beating the big boys