06/28/2001 11:00PM

Using fractions to expose a vulnerable favorite

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Which race offers the best chance for bettors to overcome the 16 to 19 percent takeout on a race at Churchill Downs? In the first example, the favorite just beat a similar field by five lengths, with a dominant Beyer. He's more consistent than his opponents, likes Churchill, and is proven at the distance.

In the other example, the favorite is being asked to do something new, but drops significantly in class into the softest spot he has seen. Is he the real deal, or will he be vulnerable? If he genuinely stands out, he will offer betting value since some handicappers will doubt his ability to handle the new challenge. But if his past performances suggest that he will be vulnerable, every other horse in the race becomes a potential overlay.

When all of the cards are on the table, as they are in the first example, there isn't much skill involved in handicapping a race. But when the issue is more complex, as it is in the second example, exciting possibilities can emerge.

The favorite in Wednesday's sixth race at Churchill was Broach, at 3-2. Broach is a 3-year-old filly who debuted in a seven-furlong maiden special race at Keeneland last October. She dueled early, then stopped badly, and finished 10th of 11, beaten by 32 1/4 lengths. Eight months later, Broach dropped into a $30,000 maiden claiming race in her comeback at Churchill. She chased a 21.15 seconds and 44.38 pace, then fell back, and finished sixth of 11, beaten by 13 lengths.

The good new was that Broach was dropping from maiden $30,000 to maiden $17,500, and would be facing a modest field that lacked depth. Only one opponent, Miss T C, showed an in-the-money finish last time out. The bad news was that Broach was stretching out from six furlongs to a 1 1/16-mile route trip. Would she beat this slow field in gate-to-wire fashion, or would she stop as badly, or worse than she did in her sprints?

When faced with a question like this, the best way to make an informed decision is to examine the fractions of the sprint race. For the sake of those who aren't comfortable with math, I will simplify the computations by using the one length equals .20 of a second formula. Broach was 1 1/2 lengths behind a 21.15 opening quarter on June 14. Add .30, and that works out to a 21.45 first quarter. Broach was 5 1/2 lengths behind the 44.38 half-mile fraction. Add 1.10 seconds, and she ran a half-mile in 45.48. Broach lost by 13 lengths in a six-furlong race timed in 1:09.96. Add 2.60 seconds, and her final time would be 1:12.56.

Broach's quarter-miles were run in 21.45, 24.03, and 27.08. Even with the formulas that count each length behind the pace as being worth slightly less than one-fifth of a second, the trend couldn't be much more obvious. Judging from the way she stopped through her last quarter-mile, how slowly would Broach have negotiated her next quarter-mile if she had been running a mile, rather than six furlongs that day? Or the last five-sixteenths of a mile in Wednesday's 1 1/16-mile trip?

If Broach had shown the ability to distribute her energy much more evenly, it would have been a different story. But she gave no hint of being able to do so at six furlongs, or seven furlongs, and was a poor bet to accomplish that task the third time around, at 1 1/16 miles. Even with the benefit of the class drop, and the expertise of a top trainer and jockey who would do everything they could think of to try to coax her into getting the added distance, Broach was odds-on to surrender at this route distance, and did not deserve to be the 3-2 favorite.

Robby Albarado rode Broach well. She bobbled at the start, but recovered quickly. He restrained her gently, without fighting her, and led by

2 1/2 lengths through a 23.33 opening quarter, and by a length after a 47.32 half-mile. But Broach ran out of gas on the far turn, and finished seventh of nine, beaten by 12 3/4 lengths. Miss T C, the only horse in the race boasting an in-the-money finish last time, won and paid $10.80. Bettors willing to guess that Broach would not participate in the winning trifecta, or superfecta combinations had the opportunity to collect payoffs of $1,647 and $7,165.90.