03/02/2016 5:57PM

Pandolfo: Using late energy to evaluate class


Defining class in a racehorse is complicated.

Trips are important when using them to define the overall character of a racehorse. There are horses racing that I’ve seen go many tough trips, often caught in long first-over trips, or forced to set a fast pressured pace, and they dig in gamely in the late stages. This to me is one of the most overlooked ways of using trip handicapping. That is, using trips to create an overall evaluation of a horse’s class.

Whether or not a horse is going to win tonight is often based on what speed it is showing at this moment. For instance, say a 4-year-old takes a mark of 1:54 at Yonkers and paced several miles in the 1:54 to 1:54 3/5 range when it was in sharp form. The horse takes a few months off and comes back as a 5-year-old. After 10 races, the horse has no wins and only two in-the-money finishes while racing at the same $25,000 claiming level that it did most of last year.  The horse’s best time this year is 1:55 and its times are in the 1:55 to 1:55 3/5 range. Obviously the horse is not in peak form. But that doesn’t mean it can’t win. If the horse drops to a level where the races are going in its 1:55 range, it can win; especially if the horse has some class. Horses with class show a certain grit and determination. Many classy horses never lose that competitive spirit, even as they get older and slower.

[DRF HARNESS EYE: Digital Harness Eye is now available for purchase--PPs, Analysis, Charts, and more!]

As a horse ages, it will eventually be a slower horse, but a classy horse will still be able to win if it drops in where it fits on final time. A classy horse is a hard-trying horse.

When following a circuit, most regulars who handicap every day are going to know which horses have that touch of class. I like to look at how a horse finishes in comparison to the pace. A horse doesn’t have to be a top class horse to have class. In fact, there are some classy horses racing in $10K claimers.

But all top class horses can finish. Even top class horses that are speed types which go to the lead. The key is how the horse finishes compared to the pace. For instance, if a horse races at the Meadowlands in a $40,000 claiming race and goes 1:21 to the three quarters and wins in 1:50, the final quarter of 29 is not that fast. But, it is fast when compared to the fast pace of 1:21. Finishing power is all relative to the pace. 

Naturally, a horse that wins a lot of races or has high earnings usually has class, and I certainly look at those numbers. I also look at each horses’ best lifetime win time.

When evaluating current class, look for horses that have recently shown the ability to overcome tough trips and still fight hard in the final quarter. Look for horses that finish fast in relation to the pace.


As a general handicapping aid, here is something I've created to evaluate final quarter time:

--Prime half mile and five eighth tracks

--Final quarter in 28 4/5 or faster.

I'm using the word "prime" to point to the tracks that have the better purses. This would include tracks like Dover Downs, Harrah's Philadelphia, Pocono Downs, The Meadows and Yonkers in particular. However, I would also include the Ohio half and five eighth tracks.

Naturally, any horse that goes very fast early may record some slower final quarters. But, if that's not the case, at the higher grade tracks that have good purses, a horse that doesn't show a few races where it finished in under 29 seconds is probably not in good enough form right now. At the lower grade tracks, a 29-and-change last quarter would be acceptable.

If you want to rate the final quarters numerically, here is a formula: 28 4/5 is 1 point. Add one point for each fifth-of-a-second. For instance, a 28 3/5 final quarter would be 2 points. A 27 4/5 final quarter would be 5 points.

You can pick out a couple of horses’ best recent performances and jot down the final quarter points; the higher, the better.

Now, let's say that you did this for horses’ last two starts and it has a 5 and a 7. That would mean that the horses’ last two final quarters were 27 4/5 and 27 2/5.

At this point, look over the horses’ past performance line and try to evaluate how much energy the horse used prior to the final quarter. Look at two things, the horse’s fractional times and the actual trip the horse had.

The faster the horse went prior to the final quarter, the tougher it is to record a fast final quarter. And, the more work the horse did, the harder it is to finish fast. For instance, if a horse left and was parked to the lead in 27, set the pace under pressure and paced a 27 4/5 final quarter, that's a sharp effort because the horse finished well even though it used a lot of energy prior to the last quarter.

Here is a good rule of thumb. Look over the other horses in the race. Pick out a couple of the better recent performances, preferably from the last two pp lines. Look at the fractions. This should give you a good idea of what would be a lively pace for this race. Say that a couple of horses recently went to the half in 56 3/5 and the three quarters in 1:25 3/5, and those times are solid for this class level and this field.

Look at your Final Quarter points for each horse and compare them to the pace. Which horse, or horses, had the best combination of Final Quarter points and half and three quarter times that are at least as good, or close to, the 56 3/5 and 1:25 3/5.

Any horse with high Final Quarter points that were earned in races where the horse was not just lagging back and saving ground is clearly a very sharp horse in this race. This formula can be used as a spot play system. But, as always, make sure that you don't bet underlays.

You can also evaluate the actual trip that the horse had. Give extra points for horses that were roughed up first over, were used setting the pace, or had to mount a long three wide rally on the final turn. A horse that has high Final Quarter Points and used some of its energy prior to the final quarter is sharp and ready to win.

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, 112 Michael Ct., Northampton, PA 18067.

[DRF HARNESS NEWSLETTER: Sign Up for the NEW FREE DRF Harness Newsletter. Fresh content and insights delivered each Friday. Just enter your email address on the bottom of the DRF Harness homepage.]