Thoroughbred Horse Racing at The Great Race Place Santa Anita Park
We view the Primary Handicapping Factors as those directly related to the ability of a thoroughbred race horse.
The ability to defeat rival competitors under any circumstances, to overcome disadvantage and setback; poor start, pace duel, wide trip, shuffled, bumped, forced to steady, a wall of horses, whatever; any horse that holds a meaningful Class advantage - true Thoroughbred Class, will do whatever is asked.
While every thoroughbred horse race presents a unique set of challenges to the entrants, the winning horse will combine the three elements of class more effectively than its competitors; demonstrating the required mix of speed, determination and stamina to "outclass" the field and prevail on this day.
We approach the difficult task of discerning Thoroughbred Class by understanding first, that it's the most important Primary Handicapping Factor, since by nature true Class will possess inherent talent to overcome Speed or Pace advantage, a troubled trip, or whatever.
Secondly, that a thoroughbred's "True Class Today" (the mix of speed, determination and stamina the horse will demonstrate today) will be a combined function of its Breeding, Speed, ability to sustain a Pace and Current Form; as influenced by the Secondary and Unknown Handicapping Factors.
Thoroughbred race horses inherit mental and physical characteristics from their Sire (father of a race horse) and Dam (mother), each passing on to their offspring the genetic code provenant from the two ancestral lines.
Therefore in the breeding is where the destiny of a race horse is written, the impact of lineage upon both ability and Class is ever present; the pedigree will define whether a race horse ends up in the claiming ranks or moves up through the conditions and makes it to stakes level competition.
When examining pedigree for the purpose of handicapping a thoroughbred horse race (as opposed to breeding purposes), it's important to appreciate the impact breeding will have in various types of races, over different surfaces, at varying distances.
The genetic factor will be more influential in certain races and less so in others but may be decisive in turf races, maiden special weight, Grade 1 and Grade 2 races; also in races restricted to statebreds, races with two year olds and where certain horses are trying a new surface or stretching out in distance for the first time.
Speed is one of the three elements of Class and that makes the two inseparable. Speed can be a decisive factor in dirt sprints and uncontested Speed can be a decisive factor at any distance over any surface. Mind you, Speed is one component of Class, the other two being stamina and will.
After all, they're thoroughbreds so we know they can run fast, but for how long? Handicappers want to know which horses can run fast (speed) while demonstrating an ability to sustain the pace required to subdue the competition (stamina).
Moreover the best horses, those able to effectively calibrate the three elements of Class will be the exemplars with the ability to run fast (speed), sustain the pace (stamina), and respond when challenged by another competitor of equal ability, by exhibiting the required degree of perseverance in the stretch and the stronger will to prevail (determination).
To make things more interesting, since Pace is nothing more than sustained speed, Speed shares an interdependency with Pace as well.
Thus in order to effectively evaluate the Speed factor in a thoroughbred horse race, the distinction must be made between Early Speed as measured to the first call, and adjusted final time for the distance as measured by the speed figure; while remaining cognizant of the influence Early Speed exerts over the final time.
In further analysis, since Early Speed is measured at the first call which occurs at two furlongs in sprints, and since pretty much any thoroughbred horse can go all out for such short distance; then what's important is not how fast a horse can run to the first call but rather, is the horse likely to secure a lead by the first call?
Since this has more to do with running style than actual Speed, a vast array of new questions arise carrying the handicapper straight into analysis of the Pace factor - hence the interdependency.
"Pace Makes the Race" (Doc Sartin).
Pace can be a decisive factor anytime a contender controls at least two segments of a race.
Further, Early Speed as measured to the first call is not the same as Early Pace which is measured at the second call; in sprints, the former occurs at two furlongs and the later occurs at four furlongs.
They are two segments of a race, the first fraction and the second fraction; with the third segment being, the final fraction.
Accurate Pace figures based upon adjusted fractional times will answer important questions about how the race sets up.
For instance, whether front runners will be able to sustain the pace required to subdue all competitors, or if any horse will be in position to stalk the front runners and gain control during the late stages.
Pace study will also shed light on how interaction among front runners competing for the early lead is likely to affect the shape and outcome of the race, enabling handicappers to safely eliminate horses that do not meet the early pace requirements of a race, as well as, those that will not be in position to finish well based on running style.
Additionally, Early Pace is best evaluated through the prism of the quality of the overall effort, in terms of finish position, margin of victory or defeat, lengths gained or lost in the stretch, and final time for the distance as adjusted by track variant (the speed figure).
Therefore, what's important is not how fast a horse can run to the second call but rather, handicappers want to know its comfort zone; how fast a horse can run to the second call, while turning in a winning effort.
Since more often than not, the faster a horse runs during the early stages of a race (the more energy expended); and the slower it will be running in the late stages (lacking energy for the stretch run); thus when challenged by another contender, a horse that is forced to run outside of its comfort zone during the early stages, will likely be fading in the stretch.
No matter any existing advantage whether Class or otherwise, a horse which is not in top Current Form today, will be vulnerable of losing to another horse; if the other horse will be running at peak form.
Here we point to one of the greatest "Class" horses ever, and possibly the greatest we will ever see in our lifetimes, Zenyatta, the queen; who did everything EVER asked of her with a smile - true Thoroughbred Class.
There is no possible way Blame could have beaten Zenyatta, unless as was the case, he had been pointing towards the race, was cranked to the utmost, perfectly timed to reach the peak of his form cycle in that Breeder's Cup race.
Aside from the fact that Blame benefitted from having the best rider in the universe Garret Gomez who pulled all the right strings, at all the right times, executing a perfect race while Blame basically held on for dear life.
It is therefore imperative for handicappers to be informed regarding the Current Form of each horse in a race. What is the trainer's intent? Has the horse been pointed to this race? Is this race a tune up? The best horse does not always win every race, in fact, it will not win if not sound, unfit, out-of-form or just doesn't feel well today.
The algorithm which calculates Current Form is based upon our own proprietary method, which has not ever been published anywhere. Among other things, this algorithm looks at a horse's workout tab and finish position in its last five races.
Moreover, the algorithm has been programmed to assign greater value to a good workout which occured since last race, as opposed to earlier on the tab; and, assigns greater value to a horse that was in the lead or within striking position at the stretch call in its last race, with extra credit if the horse won the race or managed to close ground on the leader.