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Bob Pandolfo: Evaluating wide trips at the Meadowlands
There are different theories on how much ground a pacer or trotter loses racing wide or parked out. I'm going to give you some basic guidelines I use when evaluating parked-out trips at the Meadowlands.
I'll use the races from Saturday, Jan. 12 as examples.
Let's start with the 1st race. In this race, the fractions and final time were: :27, :55, 1:23.3, 1:53.1. The race was for non-winners of 3 races. During the summer, this would have been an average pace for these horses. But Saturday night the track was not exceptionally fast. The best horse on the card, Golden Receiver, cut these fractions in the 2nd race: :26.3, :55.2, 1:23, 1:49.
So you can see that the opening half in the NW3, with a purse of $12,500, was 2 fifths of a second faster than the 1st leg of the Presidential Free For All which had a $50,000 purse.
In the first race, Native Speed left the gate but was unable to clear the lead. The horse raced parked the mile without cover challenging for the lead and lost by 9 lengths.
Here are my general rules for parked-out trips at the Meadowlands, and these can be used for any one-mile or seven-eighths track.
Horses racing parked out two wide will lose about 15.5 feet per turn. So a horse racing parked the mile will lose about 31 feet. If a length is 8 feet, a horse racing parked the mile loses about 4 lengths.
However, I personally feel that this number can vary greatly depending upon two factors. A) How fast the pace is, and B) If the horse is parked two wide without cover or with cover. With cover a horse racing parked the mile through an average pace should lose about 4 lengths, without cover is a different story.
In the first race, the pace was faster than average for the winter conditions on this particular night. Native Speed was parked two wide without cover. Racing uncovered in a fast pace is going to cost a horse anywhere from 1 1/2 lengths to 2 lengths per quarter, depending on the speed of the quarter and how hard the horse is challenging. Native Speed was 2 lengths behind at the first quarter marker and he lost ground while tiring badly in the final quarter. But in the second and third quarters he was battling for the lead with the pacesetter, Action Brad. I give him 4 lengths of ground loss through that middle-half, 2 lengths for the first quarter and 1 length for the final quarter, a total of 7 lengths. Since he lost the race by 9 lengths, my estimate is that if he had sat a good trip, for instance, saved ground throughout from an inside post, not losing any ground at all, he would lost by 1 or 2 lengths. So with a decent trip, Native Speed, who went off at 70-1, may be competitive against a similar field. He may be a good horse to include in exactas or trifectas.
Before I go any further, let me say that so far this meet it seems to me that the drivers are adhering to the Meadowlands policy of "not giving early tucks." This is something that the Meadowlands management has indicated it wants. This results in more horses getting parked the mile, so evaluating these parked-out trips is important.
Let's move on to the 3rd race. In this race the fractions were: :27.2, :54.4, 1:23.1, 1:52.2. For a C-1 race on this night, I would say that this was also a faster-than-average pace. Three horses raced parked the mile in this race, but two of them finished 9th and 10th. Let's concentrate on the one that raced well, Casimir Camotion. This classy veteran raced parked the mile without cover and only lost by 2 lengths. He was 3rd, one length behind at the quarter. His middle-half was particularly good, he challenged hard on the outside. His final quarter of :29 2/5 was quite good considering this trip. Casimir Camotion has won 51 races for $1.7 million in his career, so it's not shocking to see a horse of this caliber race so gamely, even at the ripe age of 13. He's a remarkable animal. In my estimation, he lost 4 lengths through the middle-half alone and 7 to 8 lengths for the mile. If he had cleared to the lead by the half he most likely would have won the race by two to three lengths. If he had a better post and had cleared to the lead early, he would have won easily. It will be interesting to see if the racing secretary moves him up out of C-1 off this loss. He only won 1 race in 29 starts and this race could take something out of him, so in my opinion, he should not be moved up in class, especially since he's 13-years-old. It’s rare that you see a 13-year-old pacer still in the condition ranks, most are claimers. I'd love to see the old guy get another crack at these.
We move on to the 5th race and Bullet Speed, who was parked the mile from post 9 without cover prompting this pace. The fractions were: :27.1, :54.4, 1:23, 1:51.3. This was a B-1 and the pace was about average but the first two finishers rallied from off the pace. At the Meadowlands during the winter we have to considering giving extra credit to the horses that set or forced the pace, even when the fractions are just average. Bullet Speed only lost by 4 lengths. He challenged during the middle-half and I'd give him 3 to 4 lengths for that, but since the pace was average, overall I'd say he probably lost about 7 lengths due to this trip. Still, since he only finished 4 lengths behind the winner, in my estimate he would've won the race if he had cleared or got some sort of good cover trip or inside ground-saving trip. In my opinion, on this night, Bullet Speed was the best horse in this race.
On half-mile tracks there are four turns, and on five-eighth tracks there are three turns, and parked-the-mile trips can be even tougher as you add turns. Still, for most parked the mile without cover trips I'm probably going to give a horse between 6 and 8 lengths depending on the fractions and time of the race, regardless of the track. Even though the Meadowlands has two turns, it is also a track that benefits horses that have stamina and class. So, covered horses in general have an advantage, especially during the winter. On half-mile tracks the pace is usually slower because there aren't as many moves during the mile so that is sort of an equalizer. That's why I use almost the same guidelines I've shown here at most tracks.
Another thing to consider, when drivers leave from posts 9 and 10, it usually means that they feel they have a strong horse. If a horse is a pure front-runner that is hard to hold, that's a different story. But if the drivers at the Meadowlands continue to deny tucks, this means that a driver who leaves from posts 9 and 10 probably feels he has a horse that can overcome the post. This sign of confidence is often a good indicator. Two of the horses I've highlighted here, Casimir Camotion and Bullet Speed, left the gate because the driver knew that he had a strong horse.
One of the most interesting things about ground loss is that it isn’t always a bad thing. For instance, a company called Trakus is used at several tracks. Trakus charts the horse's trip digitally. The charts show you how much ground each horse loses for racing wide. At Woodbine, the Trakus information shows that during the thoroughbred meets, the horses that win have an average ground loss that is higher than the horses that finish off the board. This indicates that at Woodbine, which has a tiring synthetic surface, the wide trips are the best trips and the rail is dull. So it’s actually an advantage to lose ground. If you correlate this to harness racing, racing two wide at a track like Balmoral or the Meadowlands is not as bad as racing two wide over most half-mile tracks. The more speed favoring a track is, the more it benefits horses that are racing on the rail. The more closer-friendly a track is, the less degree of difficulty racing two wide in an outside flow. On a tiring track, the front-runner may give way and back up the inner tier, giving the outside closers an advantage.
To find out more about Pandy’s handicapping theories check out his www.trotpicks.com or www.handicappingwinners.com websites, his free picks at handicapping.ustrotting.com/pandycapping.cfm or write to Bob Pandolfo, 3386 Creek Road, Northampton, PA 18067.