Split times tell their tale
The most difficult part of the evaluation of a race, both beforehand and afterwards, is establishing the pace at which it will be run (and is).
Beforehand the field in its entirety must be considered, to see who the likely pacemakers are. If there are natural front runners, the prospect of a good gallop must be assessed, since even with front runners the pace can still be on the slow side. In the absence of likely front runners, the pace should be expected to on the slow side, and the prospect of a false run race will be real.
The assumptions play an important role in deciding (beforehand!) which horses are likely to run to form in the race, given track, going, and distance. More important perhaps is the effect this kind of thinking will have on the reading of the race. With a pre-conceived idea about how the race may unfold, it becomes easier to see what is actually happening in the running.
The 1986 Met was a good example. With the start on the bend of the ?old' course, the draw became an important consideration. General consensus was that the Met would be run at a cracking pace from the jump, this despite the absence of real front runners. The Cape Times ("Intuition") was alone to doubt a good gallop and leaned towards a less than true pace early on - which proved to be the correct assumption. There can be little doubt that the pace contributed to Wild West's victory, as well as to the good efforts of others racing handy (Supreme Sovereign a case in point). That Hot Touch finished down the field is not surprising, taking into account his position during the race.
But how slow was the pace? And is pace really that important?
There is no substitute for a stopwatch to measure split times to really get a view on what happens. As important, split times on a given day can be compared, to see what was possible given the prevailing going and weather conditions.
The table below shows split times for all races on Met-day, in fractions of 400m. At a glance those times reveal how different pace can be in different races (note that 1000m and 1200m are on the straight, the others on the old round course).
To assess the Met's pace, the two 1600m races give a good guide.
The Handicap B run right after the Met was won in fine style by Potomac, who went at good gallop from the start. Potomac raced close to the pace and kept it up. Predictably horses racing from behind were unable to make up ground, as to that they would have had to run faster than the winner, who went about as fast as a horse can run at this track.
This is the key to races run at a fast pace: you cannot give start to a horse that doesn't stop.
The other 1600m race showed a similar beginning, but because of the lower class of horses, the winner (who raced handy) slowed down somewhat towards the end, but still kept going well enough to prevent others from making up ground.
In comparison, the Met was run at a doddle early on, given the class of horses: 2 seconds slower already in the first 400m than Potomac's race, and 3.5 seconds slower going through the 1600m mark. Compare also the time of the Graduation mile run as last race on the card, going 1.7 second faster than the Met's first 1600m.
The average time per 1000m gives a clue, too, showing 60.9s and 62.1s for the two mile-races, vs. 62.8s for the Met.
Such is the influence of pace and tactics!
(Winner's Circle, March 1986)
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