08/20/2009 2:44PM

Pace in the Test


   Pardon the dust on the blog.....I've been on Brett Favre duty here in Minnesota for NFL Network.

   Some posters have requested a preview of upcoming stakes races from a pacefig perspective. I'm planning to do that each weekend.  Others have wanted an example from past races of how pacefigs can be used to a horseplayer's advantage. I can do that right now.

   One of the most recent - and best - examples was Saratoga's Test Stakes Aug. 8.  This spotlighted one of my favorite pacefig plays: a route-to-sprint turnback in which a horse's six-furlong pacefig is faster than the final figs of the competition. 

   On the scale used in Moss Pace Figures, Heart Ashley had set swift pacefigs of 99-96 in the Prioress Stakes before faltering to an 85 final figure. Olde Glamour had been almost as fast in the Jersey Girl Stakes, going 98-95 en route to an 87 final fig.  Cat Moves sat back in the Prioress with 76-90 and rallied to win with a 91. But as part of that suicidal pace battle in front of Rachel Alexandra in the Mother Goose, Flashing went 90-93-96, the latter pacefig taken at the six furlong mark. In other words, Flashing's six-furlong pacefig was clearly superior to the final sprint figs of any other 3-year-old filly in the field, plus she won the 7 furlong Nassau County two races back. With a similar effort under more favorable circumstances in the Test, she looked to have an edge if Richard Migliore could get her to settle behind the two projected frontrunners. That's exactly what happened, and the fact Flashing backed up so badly late in the Mother Goose when hopelessly beaten by Rachel Alexandra inflated her price in the Test: she paid $11.20.

  If only they all could turn out so neatly.

  Now, to the mailbox.

  Van Savant asked, "Have synthetic surfaces diminished or eliminated your edge from a pace handicapping standpoint?" 

    From a personal perspective, the answer is a clear "yes."  I think I've now come up with very accurate synthetic pace figures and pars, but I'm admittedly still struggling with the best way to use them. On dirt, it helps to know if a horse has the speed to get a clear early lead, but on the fake stuff that often isn't really an advantage. Because synthetic surfaces are less favorable to speed, it does help to identify abnormally fast-paced races from which early-pace types deserve extra credit. And when Keeneland first unveiled its Polytrack, a pace handicapper could with disturbing frequency find trifectas by using only horses with the lowest pacefigs.  But while I've corresponded with pacefig users in Southern California who say they have developed a consistently good feel for using them on synthetics, I haven't yet.

    This isn't about pacefigs, but sometimes I get a kick out of acidic posts such as the following from Dan: "I would rather know why you are in Jess Jackson's back pocket? Why do you spend so much time with him or rather why does he spend so much time with you before a national broadcast and why do you seem so serious/mean almost in your opinion of HOTY?  Like you and Jerry Bailey are the final word on the discussion because you were on the phone with Jess before the broadcast or you 'spent lots of time' with Jess that morning?"   

   My kids have always insisted my serious look is also a mean look, so I'll take your word on that. And although I hardly have the final word, I'm completely serious in my opinions that Rachel Alexandra and Ruffian are the two fastest fillies ever on American dirt and that Rachel is currently the clear HOY frontrunner. As far as being in Jess Jackson's back pocket, he'd get a kick out of that, since I was quoted in USA Today and all over the radio as being against his decision to run Rachel back in the Preakness on 15 days rest. For our last two ESPN shows, I've been the one designated to provide an update on where Rachel Alexandra might run next. As Steve Asmussen would probably tell you, the most accurate way to do that is to call Jackson directly, thus I twice tapped into Jerry Bailey's endless reservoir of cellphone contacts for Jackson's number and rang him up before going on the air to provide the most up-to-date info to our viewers. We're always encouraged to preface such comments by saying, for example, "I spoke to Jess Jackson earlier today," etc., not to sound boastful but so viewers understand what we're saying is coming directly from the source and isn't just announcer blather. I respect Jackson on many levels and think he's been great for the sport, but I recall having a one-on-one conversation with him on only one other occasion, the afternoon last fall we both testified in D.C. before a subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives.  So there you go, Dan.  And thanks for watching, by the way.