04/17/2014 9:59AM

Bob Pandolfo: Pay attention to the middle of the race

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Bob Pandolfo

Whether I’m handicapping harness racing or thoroughbred racing, I pay a lot of attention to middle-moves and turn time.

In most thoroughbred races, the middle move takes place on the final turn. Depending on the track layout and the distance, the move may start on the straightaway heading into the turn and continue around the turn until the top of the stretch. Sometimes this move is called “turn time”. I have my own computer handicapping system that gives me each horse’s turn time (such as 22.2, etc.) for comparison purposes. If you don’t have a computer system that does that, you can easily figure out a horse’s turn time. In a six furlong sprint, if a horse leads through these fractions :22, :44.2, then it’s turn time was :22.2. If a horse in the same race gains two lengths during the second quarter, it’s turn time is :22 (which is very good, by the way). There’s an excellent chapter on turn time in Tom Brohamer’s interesting book, “Modern Pace Handicapping.”

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In harness racing, the middle-move can start anytime after the first quarter. And like thoroughbred racing, the turn time is important. It’s tougher to accelerate around a turn than it is on a straightaway. If a horse is wide, that uses up even more energy. Another thing that comes into play is the fact that all of the horses are trying hard at that point in the race. I’ll explain what I mean by this.

We often see harness races where a horse “quarter moves” to the lead. Basically, a driver lets the field settle and sits third, then approaching the first quarter, he moves his horse out and brushes to the lead. This is the quarter move. It is often an easy move on the horse, especially if the first quarter wasn’t that fast. The horse on the lead is usually trying to put on the brakes, so the horse that quarter moves is not used hard to clear to the lead.

But when the field gets to the half, the action usually heats up and horses are trying to gain in the final half. In the last half, all of the horses are trying hard, so it’s tougher for a horse to make a move because it often has to move in a pack, instead of by itself. It’s usually a lot tougher to brush to the lead in the final half than it is in the first half of the race. In the first half of the race, the horses are pacing themselves and saving something for the finish.

In thoroughbred racing, horses that win a lot of races are often horses that have the ability to make up a lot of ground on the final turn. It’s a crucial part of the race because not that many races are won by horses that have a lot of ground to make up in the stretch. Premier races like the Kentucky Derby, the Belmont stakes and the Breeders Cup Classic are usually won by horses that make a sustained run on the turn to get position; then they have the class to finish well through the stretch. But the “turn time” puts them into striking position. One-paced horses that have trouble quickening usually have low win percentages because they don’t have a sharp turn of speed on the final turn.

Big middle-moves and/or turn time moves are what I call “Explosive Moves.” When a horse makes an Explosive Move, it’s a good sign that the driver felt his horse was on the bit and had enough to make such a move. This is often a sign of an improving horse, or a horse coming into a peak form cycle.

In harness racing, you'll often see horses gain a chunk of ground thought the middle-half (the second and third quarters). Horses that gain significantly through that part of the race, and then still have something left in the stretch, are usually in sharp form. But horses that go a big last half are also displaying sustained energy, a sign of class and fitness.

At Yonkers last Saturday (April 12), there was a good example of this in the 8th race. Steelhead Hanover stepped up in class and drew post eight. He followed cover third over but the horse that was second over didn't have much. Steelhead Hanover gained eight lengths though the middle-half. That means that he paced a middle-half in :56 1/5. That's good, not great. But, Steelhead Hanover angled wide and finished strongly in the stretch, pacing his last quarter in :27 2/5 to lose by less than a length. This horse had both moves. He gained a chunk of ground through the middle half, but he also paced a strong last half of :55 1/5. When you consider that fact that he was racing against the post and speed bias at Yonkers, this effort looks even better.

In the 6th race at Yonkers Saturday night, Dream Out Loud N is another horse that raced sharp from off the pace. Dream Out Loud N did not pace a big middle-half. He gained five lengths thought he middle-half, which was not exceptional. But his last half was strong. He was third over and he finished in :27 while recording a :55 1/5 last half.

With these types of sustained off-the-pace moves, we also have to consider the ground loss. These horses were two-wide and had to rally wider late on the final turn. Sometimes these strong closers take the final turn three-wide, which is very taxing. These two horses I've mentioned both paced :55 1/5 last halves. But, they were racing on the outside, not along the pylons. That means that with an inside trip, they could probably go even faster.

Sometimes following horses that make these types of moves pays off. Often you'll see a horse make up a lot of ground through the middle half, rally wide on the final turn, but then flatten out in the stretch. Too often bettors underestimate the amount of energy the horse used up and this often creates a good wagering opportunity.

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.