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Determining Speed In Horse Racing

Aug 17, 2007
Many fans have a notion that speed will tell them which horse will win the race, but that's not the case. Speed can be looked at, but there are many other important determining factors.

It seems that the average person grabs at the nearest and easiest measure to use in analyzing everyday occurrences. Why not apply this logic to harness racing? After all, it seems outwardly practical. If A can run the mile in 2:06 and B runs it in 2:05, then B will beat A. He is one full second faster. Well, this isn't always the case.

The only item that one can garner from the above is that this was true last week and the only really correct statement that can be made is that last week B ran a 2:05. One might add that this was against last week's opponents, in last week's post position, and in last week's race.

This may come as a shock to some old-time harness racing fans, but I generally do not use speed as the uppermost factor to determine a horse's ability in a specific race. Of course there are justifiable limits; I am not saying that a horse that is considerably faster than another horse will not win over him. However, horses within a given class are generally about the same speed or close enough in approximate times to make "speed" hair-splitting unreasonable. Seldom, if ever, will you find a really fast horse running with much slower ones, and this can be shown by an examination of the record.

How often have you seen a pacer or trotter win by 5 or 10 lengths? The answer is seldom! The usual winning space is half a length to two lengths.

This in itself should show an intelligent handicapper that the winners are generally not much faster than the losers! Of course, there are instances where a horse breezes home with a comfortable two-length lead, and could open this up if he desired. But since one can only generalize, he will realize at a glance that most races are hotly contested and hard fought, right down to the wire.

To take the opposite point of view on this question, one would have to show that the first horse crossed the finish line at least five lengths ahead of the second horse, and as we have said previously, this just doesn't happen often.

Speed can be shown as a combination of factors. Since each race must be looked upon as a different combination of factors, you can see how speed can vary even with the same horse at different times. Examples of this are numerous and could be shown by the thousands. A few random examples might further clarify this point:

A. Hi Lo's Peppy ran a 2:05 at Roosevelt Raceway on 9/10/59 winning the race by three lengths. But the race preceding this win, and just eight days before at
Roosevelt (also on a fast track) he finished 3M lengths behind the winner who won the race in 2:06.1.

B. At Detroit, Lynanna, on 8/24/59 (fast track) won a race running from the 2 position, in 2:05.2. She came back a week later (9/2/59) also on a fast track and also from the 2 position and finished fifth in 2:07 - against similar competition.

This type of example could be continued indefinitely because speed and "times" simply do not show all of the factors in a race.
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