Exercise Science, Pace, and Handicapping


“A horse’s fractional times do not affect his final time. Horses are never ‘burned up’ by fast fractions. There is no such thing as a ‘killing pace.’” – Andrew Beyer, from Picking Winners: A Horseplayer’s Guide, 1975

That little piece of nonsense has been edited out of more recent editions of the work, and I must congratulate Mr. Beyer for realizing and admitting to his mistake shortly after this unfortunate quote. The book above by Huey Mahl was one of the earliest (along with Sartin and the gang) to pinpoint the importance of pace – or energy disbursement – within the racing game.

Now of course even casual players recognize the effects of different pace scenarios ranging from early speed during dirt sprints through blazing closing fractions common to the turf routes.

As such many pace handicappers have quantified these concepts and provided their picks for a price. Typically these ‘pace figs’ are best used in conjunction with other speed figures (such as Beyer) when contemplating a wagering strategy.

Here is the one I feel most comfortable with: http://www.simonspeedrations.com/

The handicapper is named Derek Simon, and he’s been affiliated with TwinSpires for as long as I can remember. I’ll probably butcher a description of his Speed Rations and Pace Profiles, so feel free to click the above link for further information.

Simply put, speed rations measure energy expenditure of a horse, not speed. Therefore, each race is evaluated on its own merits, rather than to some theoretical ‘par’. Just as importantly, Derek possesses the database access of a professional handicapper and the statistical skills of a mathematician. Short of receiving HR/GPS data from every horse in a race; this guy has as close to a handle on the concept of ‘it’s not how fast they go, but how they go fast’ as anyone in the game today.

Check this out:

Several days ago, Bill Mott sent a Juddmonte horse named Emollient to post in the Grade 1 American Oaks over the turf course at Betfair Hollywood Park. By now, we know he won impressively in what was his turf debut, albeit as the betting favorite. What caught my eye was the 6F work posted 2 weeks before the race, over the Belmont inner turf course in a comfortable 1:13.34 time. I cannot remember the last time a Mott-trained horse posted an official 6F work.

So, I asked Derek to run some figures for me.

First off, he uses a concept known as Impact Value (IV) to quantify statistical significance. He surely didn’t invent that construct, but he has taken it a step further into the thoroughbred wagering world by figuring odds into the formula – leading to an Odds-Based Impact Value (OBIV), which can determine whether or not a specific variable does/does not have a statistical impact on the event in questions:

OBIV Greater than 0.85 = factor has a positive impact
OBIV Between 0.80-0.85 = factor has negligible impact
OBIV Less than 0.80 = factor has negative impact

My thoughts:
What happens when Bill Mott works a horse further than 5F?
How often does that occur?
Are the results ‘significant’?

The answer: When factoring in Return on Investment (ROI) of your betting dollar, AND considering the above mentioned IV/OBIV – When a Mott entry has at least one of his last 3 works at a distance of 5F or greater BOTH the ROI is positive (win/place/show) AND the IV/OBIV is positive. Neither Mott’s overall stats nor any combination of work distances shorter than 5F produces both positive ROI and positive IV/OBIV.

Bill Mott (7/2012-2/2013)

Variable Number Win % 1-2 % 1-2-3 % 1 ROI 1-2 ROI 1-3 ROI IV OBIV
Overall 170 18.2 35.9 47.5 -30.52% -6.35% -11.35% 1.56 0.90
0 works 43 4.3 19.6 28.3 -66.96% -9.46% -20.54% 0.38 0.44
3/4F 111 23.0 43.4 54.9 -18.23% -1.15% -7.61% 1.97 0.94
5F+ 51 26.8 41.1 51.8 1.07% 1.07% 1.25% 2.24 1.25

Certainly Mr. Mott qualifies as a big-name trainer, someone whose name alone attached to a horse usually means the betting public pays attention. The ‘overall’ IV/OBIV shows that Mott conditioned horses win races at a significant level, but the ROI figures show it to be a losing proposition – mainly due to low prices. When Mott entries post no works between starts – the ROI worsens, but when he works them long (for him), every number across the ROI and IV/OBIV fields becomes positive.

Remember, Derek has these figures at his fingertips for every trainer in the game, among reams of other data. Surely other professionals do the same, but good luck getting them to provide this kind of info.

Back to the importance of pace. I feel if you are involved in this game you should go through some of the same physiological demands that our horses are placed under. I recently bought a fancy Concept 2 rowing machine:


This thing calculates your pace for each pull of the handle; and displays the data real-time on a little LCD screen about 12 inches from your sweaty face. Currently my top 500m sprint time is 1:49. When I began 4 months ago, a time of 2:08 was my best. This exercise works 80%+ of the muscles in your body simultaneously, and with no impact – quite helpful for a 43yo with a bad back and 3 knee surgeries in his rear view mirror. I interval train exclusively, no long slow rowing sessions. I am a cheap claimer. Get out the bute.

So, when I do my twice monthly time trials – I can see how fast I start out, and how fast I finish. I am trying to learn how to blast off the starting blocks and settle into a manageable pace that still allows me to kick for home. Just like a horse. I haven’t got it figured out, yet.

If my first 100m is at a 1:45 pace (4 sec faster than goal), I fall apart the final 200m – only able to hang on with a 1:52 pace and a feeling like death would be most welcome for dozens of excruciating seconds. However, if I can get a start in 1:48 or thereabouts – the final time is a tick faster and the whole experience is much more enjoyable, much more of a confidence-builder. Same goes for horses, I would imagine.

Seems the venerable Mr. Andy Beyer has never been on a rowing machine, hacking away at that thing like a maniac. If he had been, perhaps he would have not begun his career dismissing the importance of pace?

I’m not a big time bettor, but if you are please give Derek a look, he gives away several free plays a day, posts his running results, and also has a paid service with much more data. In addition to the above link, here are some other places you can catch up with him:

Facebook:          https://www.facebook.com/Youbet.DerekSimon
Twitter:               https://twitter.com/ValueWagering
Podcast:              http://www.blogtalkradio.com/twinspires
More:                   http://helloracefans.com/handicapping/pace/speed-rations/

EDIT: Well I just had my latest interval workout, coming after my personal best 1:49 for 500m time trial. This time I changed things up a bit with regards to my warmup. I began with an easy 500m in 2:04, then I went to my foam roller/massage routine and a series of static and dynamic stretches, focusing mainly on the hips. (Previously, I did the easy 500m AFTER the roller/stretches).

The result: A record 250m pace of 1:42! 3 seconds faster than ever before, and with the same perceived level of exertion. Also of note, my SPM – or strokes per minute, which typically in such a sprint is around 37, jumped up to 40. Would be nice for horse trainers to experiment during morning breezes on what warmup protocol gives the best HR/GPS results!


About bpressey

Equine Exercise Physiologist

Posted on July 23, 2013, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. What were the knee surgeries for?

    45-year old; used to run; today just using the elliptical machines

    • All left knee: first was total ACL repair using my own patella tendon via harvest. Rehab was good, but a few years later I had a buckethandle tear of the meniscus. Most tears are vertical and relatively harmless, but this one was horizontal and a disaster as the loose cartilage was in the knee joint itself, rendering the joint useless. Surgery followed, then I spent 12 weeks over the summer in a hip to ankle cast allowing for the stapled remaining cartilage to heal. For several years after it was very unstable, then again about 5 years ago it happened once more. This time I told the doc to just remove all the damaged cartilage, I was running again in 2 weeks and a few marathons later all is good! (fingers crossed)

      I would have scoffed at this rower concept a few years back, but it has been a great experience and strengthened a weak lower back too.

  2. Phillip Haycock

    I’ve included a link to a U tube Vid that is a must see. It features a horse and connections that made their own rules on pace.
    The rule is “Run as fast as you can for as far as you can”
    This 2 mile race is a classic and the race was won in 3:16.63 ( 12.289/200m)
    This horse also went a mile in 1:34 and change. He had 100 starts and was around 8YO at the time of this race.

    • WOW! This deserves its own post – do you have additional info you can email me to bill@thoroedge.com? Thanks. We immortalize Secretariat, and rightly so, for holding this pace (maybe a tad quicker) for 12 furlongs instead of 16 (and on a fast dirt track). How aggressively do these runners warm up? Any official opening fractions for this running? My ‘pace’ guys will get a kick out of this, man this is beautiful around the 20:15 mark….

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