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The adrenaline rush of a horse race often hinges on one key element: speed. While all races may not be won by the fastest horse out of the gate, early speed, or the ability to take the lead from the start, often plays a crucial role in the dynamics of a race. The Daily Racing Form (DRF), a comprehensive source of horse racing data, is an invaluable tool in gauging a horse’s speed. In this post, we delve deeper into interpreting the DRF for speed handicapping, specifically early speed.

Interpreting Speed in the Daily Racing Form

Understanding the DRF can seem daunting with its condensed rows of numbers and cryptic abbreviations. But for speed handicapping, a few key data points are particularly enlightening:

  1. Beyer Speed Figures: A fundamental starting point for assessing a horse’s speed is the Beyer Speed Figures, located near the middle of each past performance line in bold type. These figures encapsulate a horse’s performance in each race, accounting for elements like track condition and distance. While a higher figure signifies faster performances, bear in mind that these figures predominantly measure overall speed in a race and not specifically early speed.
  2. Running Lines: A wealth of information is hidden in the running lines, showing the horse’s position and the number of lengths behind the leader at various stages in the race. Key positions are usually the start, the first quarter-mile, half-mile, three-quarters of a mile, and the finish. A horse consistently showing numbers like “1” or “2” at the first quarter (the first call point) is indicative of early speed.
  3. First Call Positions: The first call positions are essential for determining early speed. Horses consistently securing lower numbers (1-3) at the first call often display substantial early speed.
  4. Race Type: The race type or distance contributes to predicting early speed. In sprint races, typically races less than a mile, horses showing early speed have a distinct advantage. If a horse consistently exhibits early speed in these races, it may continue to do so.

Applying Early Speed in Handicapping

Having identified the potential early speed in a race, consider the following strategies:

  1. Lone Speed Advantage: In a scenario where only one horse shows consistent early speed, it stands a good chance of leading the race from start to finish — a strategy referred to as ‘wire-to-wire’. This ‘lone speed’ scenario is a favored strategy for many handicappers.
  2. The Speed Duel: A ‘speed duel’ scenario emerges when two or more horses with significant early speed vie for the lead, pushing each other to unsustainable speeds in the early part of the race. This often tires the speed horses, setting up a favorable scenario for a closer — a horse that comes from behind to win.
  3. Track Bias: Some tracks are more favorable to early speed than others. Understanding the track bias on the day of the race can significantly influence your handicapping for speed.
  4. Post Position: The draw or post position can affect a speed horse’s chances, especially at specific tracks and distances. A speed horse drawn on the outside might have to exert additional energy to attain the lead, while one drawn on the inside could get an easier lead.

Early Speed in Sprinting versus Longer Races

It’s worth noting that a horse showing speed in sprint races can often exhibit even more speed when stretched out to longer distances. Sprint races require a quick break from the gate and an ability to sustain speed over a shorter distance. If a horse has been close to the lead or leading in sprint races, it’s already demonstrated a certain degree of speed and stamina.

When such a horse is entered in a longer race, it’s likely to be among the early pace setters, as it can utilize its sprinting speed over the initial part of the race, often getting to the front or close to the lead. However, keep in mind that longer races also test a horse’s stamina and ability to maintain speed over an extended distance.

While speed is a fundamental aspect in horse racing, it’s essential to understand that it’s just one piece of the handicapping puzzle. Early speed should be considered alongside other variables like current form, class, jockey and trainer stats, and track conditions to establish a comprehensive handicapping strategy. Gaining proficiency in utilizing the DRF for speed handicapping equips you with a stronger betting approach and enhances your chances of success at the track.

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