02/24/2005 12:00AM

If early pace is slow, discount fast finish


ARCADIA, Calif. - There is nothing like a fast, furious stretch kick to stir winter frenzy. The din began immediately after a sharp allowance win by Bandini, it continued after an explosive rally by Don't Get Mad, and grew louder following a promising comeback by Golden Shine.

Yet those 3-year-old colts have more in common than visually impressive stretch runs and emergence as so-called Kentucky Derby contenders. Their shared trait is earning praise for running fast during the final part of a race, with little regard for how slow they ran the first part. Barring unusual circumstances, all three will be badly overbet the next time they run. It will not be surprising if all three lose.

The mere fact that a horse finishes fast in one race does not mean it will finish fast in a subsequent race, particularly when faced with a different pace scenario. Bandini, Don't Get Mad, and Golden Shine all ran well and appeared to finish fast. They were supposed to, because none did much serious running early.

In a nine-furlong allowance Feb. 5 at Gulfstream Park, Bandini went the first six furlongs in 1:12.13, nearly .60 slower than the 1:11.55 pace call in the Grade 3 Holy Bull later on the card. Despite soft fractions, Bandini finished in an ordinary 1:51.03, almost one second slower than the Holy Bull, which was run in 1:50.14. Rather than accept the Bandini allowance for what it was - a weakly run race against a bad group - many focused instead on his nine-length margin of victory. As if it mattered.

Don't Get Mad flew late and finished second Feb. 13 in the seven-furlong San Vicente Stakes at Santa Anita. Last by six lengths after a half-mile, Don't Get Mad closed five lengths in the stretch to miss by one. But so what? One-run closers typically flatten out when they stretch to two turns. Tom Brohamer, author of "Modern Pace Handicapping," wrote, "The best closer is one that can sustain its move for more than just a single fraction." As of late February, Don't Get Mad remains a one-run closer.

Likewise, the Feb. 16 Santa Anita comeback by Golden Shine falls short on inspection. He pressed a slow six furlongs in 1:12.36, and then blasted home by more than seven. Though visually impressive, the win fails to establish Golden Shine's ability in a race with real pace. When required to expend additional energy chasing faster fractions, horses often lose their punch.

There may be no greater influence on the outcome of a dirt race than the early fractions, and the dynamic becomes more telling as horses move up in class. Allowance races are filled with horses that go slow early and fast late; or fast early and slow late. But only genuine stakes horses put together both parts - they run fast early, and also run fast late.

When the pace quickens at upper class levels, seemingly good horses unravel. While it is possible Bandini, Don't Get Mad, and Golden Shine may reproduce top form when they chase faster fractions against tougher company, the expectation is unreasonable. Handicappers who appreciate the subtleties of pace might anticipate the exact opposite - for all three to regress when they chase real fractions. Depending on how low their odds, they may create a wonderful opportunity to "bet against."

Until a 3-year-old demonstrates the ability to sustain a rate of speed (pace) that is typical for a graded stakes, the horse must be avoided at low odds. When a horse has not run to the pace par, regardless of final time, he cannot be supported.

The issue is determining if a horse can run to the pace par. Two useful handicapping supplements that answer the question include 2005 HorseStreet Pars (available through DRF Press) and 2005 Pars Plus (available through Cynthia Publishing). The guides publish comprehensive listings that reveal pace requirements at various distances and class levels. By comparing a horse's fractions to the demands of higher levels, handicappers gain an understanding of a horse's likelihood of success while moving up.

For example, when Golden Shine ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.12 and earned a 96 Beyer Figure, he went the opening six furlongs in a slow 1:12.56. That is more than five lengths slower than the 1:11.40 pace par expected in a 1 1/16-mile race at Santa Anita that is run in 1:44. Golden Shine ran slow early, and fast late.

The good news is the critique is not permanent, and the analysis must be revisited after all three run again - Bandini on March 5 in the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park; Don't Get Mad and Golden Shine on March 19 in the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita.

If the San Felipe unfolds at a fast, legitimate pace, Golden Shine probably will get beat. Some may suggest that if Golden Shine runs the same slow fractions, he will merely drop farther off the pace before producing another big finish. It does not work that way. Golden Shine's established running style - as a presser - is to race close to the lead. Horses do not automatically change their running style by command of their jockey.

The upshot of a fast-pace race is it reveals a horse's true ability, by requiring a horse to run strong throughout the contest. Even when they lose, survivors regroup, move forward, and often qualify for victory the next time they run.