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Pandolfo: Using the Harness Early Speed Rating
Those of you who follow Thoroughbred handicapping have probably heard of Quirin Speed Points. Speed Points were based on a formula created by William Quirin, Ph.D., a retired mathematics professor. Many years later, Daily Racing Form handicapper Steve Klein wrote a book called "The Power of Early Speed," which included his own spin on an Early Speed Point method.
I developed my own early speed method for Thoroughbreds, which I call ESR (Early Speed Rating), which is included in my Diamond System computer handicapping method for Thoroughbreds. But to my knowledge no one has ever developed this type of rating for harness racing.
The idea of Speed Points is to aid a handicapper in finding the most likely horse, or horses, to get the early lead. Quirin’s method was based on position. My ESR method is based on position and the actual fractional times to the first two calls in Thoroughbred sprint races. In Thoroughbred handicapping, early speed is a potent longshot angle.
As you probably know, early speed has also become a huge factor in modern day harness racing. When I first started following the sport in the early 1970s, stamina was more important than early speed. Horses with class and finishing power were the horses to look for, even on half-mile tracks. Tactical speed was important and many good racehorses had the ability to leave the gate. But, early speed was nowhere near as prominent as it is today. In fact, it was not uncommon to see top free for all horses that rarely left the gate.
Today on all half-mile and five-eighth tracks, the best trip is the front-end trip. The next best trip is the pocket trip. The third best trip is the first-over trip. If you want to win consistently betting horses on half or five-eighth harness tracks, I’ll give you a simple tip: Only bet on horses that you think will be on the lead, in the pocket, or first over. Or, to simplify it even more, you can only bet on horses that you expect to leave the gate. At some tracks over 70 percent of the races are won by a leaver.
The two most popular one-mile tracks in the U.S., Balmoral and the Meadowlands, are less speed favoring and closers win their fair share. But, once you get up to the higher class levels and stakes races, even these tracks become speed favoring, especially the Meadowlands. And the importance of early speed is more pronounced on all tracks in warmer weather.
Without going into too much detail, the main reason for this is that the fractions and final times of the races are much faster than they were years ago. This leaves the closers at a disadvantage because the second half of the race is so fast that the closers simply don’t have enough time to catch up. Plus, in my opinion, the off-centered sulkies that are used today strongly favor horses that are racing on the rail along the pylons.
A smart handicapper can use the prevailing speed bias to his advantage. In today’s sport, you can cash a phenomenal percentage of bets just by making a few adjustments and concentrating on early speed horses, or strong horses that you expect will go first over from inside posts.
With that in mind, I’ve created a simple point system for evaluating early speed. Here it is:
ONE-MILE TRACKS PACE RATINGS
|:25 (100)||:52 (100)|
|:26 (95)||:53 (95)|
|:27 (90)||:54 (90)|
|:28 (85)||:55 (85)|
|:29 (80)||:56 (80)|
|:30 (75)||:57 (75)|
|:31 (70)||:58 (70)|
HALF-MILE TRACKS PACE RATINGS
|:26 (100)||:54 (100)|
|:27 (95)||:55 (95)|
|:28 (90)||:56 (90)|
|:29 (85)||:57 (85)|
|:30 (80)||:58 (80)|
|:31 (75)||:59 (75)|
|:32 (70)||1:00 (70)|
FIVE-EIGHTH TRACKS PACE RATINGS
|:26 (100)||:53.2 (100)|
|:27 (95)||:54.2 (95)|
|:28 (90)||:55.2 (90)|
|:29 (85)||:56.2 (85)|
|:30 (80)||:57.2 (80)|
|:31 (75)||:58.2 (75)|
|:32 (70)||:59.2 (70)|
POSITION POINTS: Adjustments for position at the three-quarter pole:
On lead +3
Within 1 length of the leader +2
Within 1 ½ to 2 lengths of the leader +1
ADJUSTMENTS FOR POST POSITION
Half mile tracks: Post 1 (+ 3 points), Posts 2 through 4 (+2 points), Post 5 (1 point).
On one mile or five eighth tracks add +2 points for any post position that wins 10 percent or more at that particular track.
This is a simple method that I may eventually expand on, especially if I put it into my computer program. Here’s how it works. Let’s say that we’re handicapping a half mile track. Look at a horse’s last two or three races and pick out a paceline that appears to be a good representation of a horse’s ability. If a horse had post 8 last time and showed nothing, go to the next race. If a horse broke, use another race. Try to use the best recent race where the horse showed some early speed. If the horse is the type that never leaves the gate, it will probably not have a good Harness Early Speed Rating so you don’t have to waste time trying to figure out the HESR for that horse.
Say that the horse left the gate last start and sat the pocket. Write down the horse’s actual quarter and half mile times. Let’s say that the horse went :27 2/5 and :57. If you look at the ratings for half mile track, a :27 2/5 would be a rating of 93, and a :57 half would be an 85. Add these two ratings together = 178. Now, there is one more step. Using the same past performance line, look at the horse’s position at the three-quarters. If the horse was leading it gets +3 points. If the horse was a half-length to one length behind the leader at the three quarters it gets +2 points. If the horse was 1 ½ to 2 lengths behind at the three-quarters it gets +1 point.
Let’s say that the horse we’re rating was 2 lengths behind at the three quarters. We would add 1 point to 178, which gives us a final HESR of 179. The horse with the highest HESR is the most dangerous speed horse. However, post position is also a factor. Let’s say that the horse has post 4. On a half-mile track that would be plus 2 points, so the horse’s total HESR is 181.
The horse with the highest HESR is the top early speed horse.
If you want to get more detailed, you could use the Position Points for all three of the first three calls and add them to the HESR. In other words, if a horse was leading at the first quarter you would add an additional 3 points, and if the horse was a length behind at the half you would add an additional 2 points. Of course you would have to do that for every horse that has early speed and looks like a contender. If you think that first-quarter speed is more important than half-mile speed, you could use just the Position Points for the first and third call. Eventually I’ll run tests to see which is the best combination, but I think that using the Pace Ratings, Position Points at the three quarter call, and Post Position points is a simple and effective method.
The basic method is easy to do and gives you a combination of actual fractional time plus the all-important positional speed at the three-quarters. Horses who are on or near the lead at the three-quarters win most of the races.
You can develop a formula where you add the HESR to the published Speed Figure, or use it as a separate rating to spot potential upset winners.
Horses with HESRs that are ranked 1st or 2nd in the race could be good longshots to include in exotic plays such as the pick three, or trifecta. And any logical contender that you like, based on your own handicapping method, will have a greater chance of winning if it is one of the top two highest ranked on HESR, so it can be something to compliment your handicapping.
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.