05/22/2013 6:29PM

Bob Pandolfo: Oxbow's Preakness win uncovers speed handicapping angle for both breeds


The first two legs of this year's Thoroughbred Triple Crown provided a good opportunity to analyze pace and speed handicapping. These principles apply to both Thoroughbred and harness racing.

During the running of the Kentucky Derby, the horse that caught my eye was Oxbow. In the Derby, the pace was exceptionally fast and Oxbow was the only horse that raced close to the pace that didn't finish up the track. I recently wrote and published a Thoroughbred handicapping book called "Pace Handicapping Longshots." In that book I illustrate a pace handicapping method I developed called The Pace Shape Method. The Pace Shape Method tabbed Oxbow to win in the Preakness.

Orb's a good horse but his Derby win was over-hyped.  In the Derby, Orb out-finished exhausted horses with a dream trip. When I saw the headlines with words like "dominates" and "finished fast," I knew that Orb would be badly over bet in the Preakness. Orb wasn't dominant and he didn't finish fast; his last quarter was :25.4, and that's slow.

I did my own speed figures for many years. They were published in Racing Action and other publications. I found that there are certain "figures" that can't always be trusted. One of these suspicious figures is when a horse runs a new speed figure top rallying from far back off a hot pace.  Final time is relative to pace. When Orb ran a 104 in the Derby, the wicked pace set up the final time. In his two prior starts, Orb had recorded Beyer figures of 97. The Derby was what I call a "pace meltdown" race, meaning that the pace was so fast that the race fell apart in the stretch. This is the easiest type of race for a closer to win. You may remember a horse named Giacomo. With only a maiden win under his belt, Giacomo won the 2005 Kentucky Derby closing off hot pace in an effort very similar to Orb's, yet no one touted him as the next Triple Crown winner.

In harness racing, you want to focus on horses that show sharp acceleration. A 4-year-old pacing mare who surprised me with a show of speed recently is Abrokenart Hanover. She had won the Night Styles final gamely on the front end. But the race that really caught my eye was the 10th race on May 10 at the Meadowlands. Abrokenart Hanover left from post 6 and was parked to the lead in :26 3/5. She yielded approaching the half, which went in :53 1/5, the fastest half of the night by more than a second. At the five eighths pole, driver Simon Allard pulled Abrokenart Hanover out of the pocket and went first up and she regained the lead at the three quarters, but she was in the two path, so she was actually parked without cover around the final turn. The three quarters went in 1:21 2/5. The next fastest three quarter time of the night was 1:23 2/5, two seconds slower.

Abrokenart Hanover held on to win by a neck. Driver Simon Allard only hit the shaft twice with the whip and he seemed confident that Abrokenart Hanover would hang on.

This race by Abrokenart Hanover really surprised me. She has 6 wins in 33 career starts with $70,000 in earnings; pretty average. But this year she is racing for a new barn and trainer Mark Capone, and she has improved. The significance of this effort was that the pace was a "pace meltdown" type of pace. This race should have been won by a closer. But it was won by a pacer who was significantly involved in the blazing pace.

As for the finish, Abrokenart Hanover paced a :28 4/5 final quarter. Although that's not fast, it was solid considering the pace of the race and how hard she was used. Final quarters have to be weighted against what the horse did prior to the final quarter. The race was a C-1 race for fillies and mares. The final time and pace were both much faster than average for this class level.

Abrokenart Hanover's next start was the 7th race at the Meadowlands on Friday, May 17. It was a tougher field and really a double jump in class because it as a B2/B1 handicap race. Abrokenart Hanover went off at 4-1 and finished 7th. But she may not be done because she had a tough trip. She left but was looped by two outside leavers so she ended up parked the mile. She had cover briefly, and then she was uncovered forcing a quick pace. Abrokenart Hanover tired in the stretch but she only lost by 4 lengths. She's in against pretty much the same field on Friday, May 24.

When evaluating pace, look for the horses that overcome the pace. Races with exceptionally fast paces are interesting handicapping studies. In the Preakness, the horse that pushed the hot pace came back to upset in the Preakness. The horse that closed and benefitted from the hot pace, lost at 3-5. This scenario is repeated time and again in harness and Thoroughbred racing.

When you're evaluating stakes horses, and in particular, young and developing horses, you want to look for "brilliance." I define brilliance as having brilliant or precocious speed. All great horses have brilliant speed. As a point of reference, compare the closing kick of Orb to Zenyatta. Orb made up 18 lengths in the Derby, but his last quarter was a slow :25 4/5. Zenyatta, on the other hand, almost overcame a similar deficit at the same distance in her final race and ran her last quarter in :23 4/5.

Pretty soon the two year olds will be out and brilliant speed becomes paramount. You are not necessarily looking for a fast final time. Look for horses that race even one fast quarter at any point in the race. This holds true for 2-year-old pacers or Thoroughbreds.

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.