02/09/2012 3:21PM

King: Pace figures identify hidden contenders on Saturday's Aqueduct card

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The importance of early speed is hardly a well-kept secret. As most are aware, horses who take command early are typically the most likely race winners, particularly on dirt, and those who stay in close attendance to the leader also win more than their fair share.

It is identifying the speed that can be the tricky matter. The obvious speeds are typically well backed at the betting windows, sometimes to the point of being underlays when one takes into account all the unforeseen events that can happen in a horse race, like a horse breaking poorly or a jockey changing tactics on another mount.

In my view, a two-pronged approach is best used for identifying speed, a strategy that incorporates using pace figures and picturing in one’s mind’s eye how a race will be run, based on post position and how horses were previously ridden successfully.

For those horseplayers who like speed and betting above-average winter racing, few tracks hold as much appeal as Aqueduct during the winter months, where every race is run on the dirt. Similarly, Oaklawn is another quality track that runs exclusively on the main track.

For the focus of this column, I dug into the past performances for Saturday’s races at Aqueduct, searching for horses with hidden speed. By that, the idea was to isolate horses whose form might not easily suggest they will be up close, but whose Moss Pace Figures and other factors point to that conclusion.

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Here are those I found most intriguing competing in six of the 10 races at Aqueduct on Saturday.

Race 1: Ginger Snapit is not the likely leader – 7-5 morning favorite Easy Ending is – but Ginger Snapit is speedier than she showed in her last race when she was fifth early. Her Moss Pace Figures are consistently second-best in the field, and as she is well drawn in post 4, it is easy to envision her getting a nicer trip tracking just off the leader, perhaps setting her up for jump-up effort at 6-1.

Race 2: The favored entry of Exact Again and Afleets Acclaim are the two speediest, with both coming out of races in which they earned two-furlong Moss Pace Ratings in the low 80’s when setting or pressing fast splits. In contrast, none of their opponents has run such a figure at any point. Unfortunately, there is just not a lot of value with the entry being 7-5, but if one half scratches, perhaps the odds will become palatable.

Race 3: This sprint appears to have at least several speed horses, and interestingly one stalker has pace figures that rival those of the established front-runners: Marquet Dancer. This leaves him with a tactical advantage, as his rider should be able to put him in a contending position without having to urge him, and then get the jump on the closers after the leaders get softened up. 4-1 morning-line odds are appealing.

Race 5: This race also appears speed-laden, with several route front-runners in the lineup, as well as some stretch-out sprinters in this maiden two-turn event. So again, the preference is to go with a stalker, but one whose pace figures suggest he can sit close and pounce. And the horse who fits best from that perspective is Sporting Gent, who advanced nicely down the backstretch of his last race and who should be able to cut the corner into the first turn from his inside post.

Race 6: Fastus Cactus will be well backed by the lone-speed crowd, particularly with a class drop from $12,500 to $7,500 claiming company. But if that one weakens, or blows the turn – as he used to do regularly – that would leave 5-1 shot Dr. W as the horse most likely to take command from a chasing speed role. And as he demonstrated in winning his last race, this is a horse perfectly at home coming up the fence if Fastus Cactus drifts out.

Race 9: The 12-1 outsider Coalition could not catch a loose-on-the-lead Swag Daddy when they met last time out, and has yet to be closer than fourth in the early stages of his two routes, but on both occasions he had poor starts and traffic issues. He is a horse whose pace figures going back to his sprints suggest he has the speed to be prominent early, particularly since he is well drawn in post 2 with a short run to the first turn. An alert beginning makes him a longshot threat.

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