The In Running advantage

By Todd Burmester
You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to work out that horses on the pace in races have an advantage, and win a higher portion of races than those trying to come from behind. This is a basis for backing winners that this team often shares. But the question is, can it really be that simple? Just identify the leading few horses and you’re onto a winner. In some ways yes, and in some ways no. At the end of the day, the underlying factor here is pace. The pace of races largely determines the result.

Horses have two types of pace. The first is their tactical pace or speed at the start of the race, and the other of course is the pace or speed at which they are able to finish off the race. To best demonstrate this, I refer back to a couple of recent races. The first goes back to Saturday week ago, and was the race won by Future Solution. In this race, identifying the leader was a piece of cake. There was no doubt it was going to be Little Blue Boy. This could easily be figured out by looking through its in running positions in the form guide at its previous starts. Little Blue Boy, in this race at Flemington was a 120/1 chance. He led, as expected, and stopped in the straight as expected.

The fact is, having early tactical pace helps to put a horse in an advantageous position in the sense that they don’t have as much to do in the straight to get past other runners, and have less chance of ending up “unlucky” in running, but at the end of the day, Little Blue Boy, as identified through his form prior to this run at Flemington, lacked the pace late in his races to be able to be competitive in the finish (without a marked unexpected improvement). Any horse, regardless of its in running position, needs to have the ability to complete the distance of today’s race, in a given amount of time (which obviously equates to a time quicker than its rivals). In the Flemington race, the record of the winner, Future Solution, over today’s distance was that he had been placed first, second or third, 7 times out of 10 attempts. Little Blue Boy on the other hand, had only been placed 3 times out of its 10 attempts at 1400m. A closer look at little Blue Boy’s form reveals that 4 of its 5 wins have come between 1500m and 1600m, where it probably does not have to utilise as much early tactical speed and energy in order to race in its preferred front running role.
Mind you, you can also add to mix that the horse is now 7 years old, and no doubt, past its best!

The example I compare and contrast the “Little Blue Boy” example with is the race won by Tuscan Fire on New Year’s Day. Now of course, I am comparing a short priced favourite with a 100/1 pop, so you can quite simply use the market to see which of these had a better chance of winning, but a closer look at the Tuscan Fire example probably suggests it was a near “good thing” in the race. Tuscan Fire had previously shown tactical pace to take up a forward position, and in this race, which had no standout tactical pace, he was likely to take up the lead or be very close to it, yet still be getting an economical run conserving enough energy for the finish. Statistically, Tuscan Fire had started 7 times over the 2000m of this race previously and had been placed 5 of those 7 times, so he was well accomplished to run well at this trip given the right run. He also had the services of Glen Boss. It turned out in running that he found the front, and Boss slowed them up to a pace that suited the horse well and he found plenty in the straight. Little Blue Boy, for the record, was being ridden by apprentice rider Tillie Neve. With all due respect to Tille, she’s no G Boss when it comes to judging pace.

The main elements that I have discussed in these examples are: The amount of tactical speed a horse has to take up a forward position, its ability to run the distance of todays race (ie. The amount of pace the horse has at the finish of the race), the amount of other tactical speed in the race, the jockey riding the horse and of course its overall recent form. To me, those are the key things to assess when looking at runners that will settle in a forward position. If you can tick all those boxes, you are likely to have a quality selection, even if you can only tick 4 of the 5, you still are likely to have a good selection. If you have a serious doubt over more than one of those, for example, in the case of Little Blue Boy, a serious doubt over its ability to run the distance, and the fact its recent form was well below par, and the Jockey on board, the fact it was likely to settle in the lead, was never going to be enough to see it salute the judge first.

The way to go when assessing a race is to put together a speed map, based on horses previous settling positions, the barrier they have drawn today, and the distance of today’s race versus its most recent races. For example, a horse that has led or settled in the first two in its last three races over a similar distance, is likely to do the same today. Horses are quite habitual animals in terms of their racing patters.

Once you have your speed map together, assess whether the horse ticks the boxes I mentioned earlier to know whether its going to gain an advantage over its rivals by settling in a forward position, because we do know, that for the right horse, a forward settling position does give it a better chance of winning the race than those back in the field with similar credentials.