Different Strokes for Different Races

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Derek Simon

January 23rd, 2015

 I often hear from players asking me what factors work best in different races.

“Hey Simon,” they say (nobody uses my first name, not sure why). “What do you look for in $16,000 claiming races at Canterbury Park?”

To which I respond: “The same thing I look for in $25,000 claiming races at Canterbury Park or anywhere else, for that matter — the best horse.”

I realize this may sound flippant to some, but, in regards to handicapping, I honestly don’t think there is that much difference between one class of race and another. Sure, I’m aware of the exceptions. In starter events, I prefer horses that were entered for the stipulated claiming price earlier rather than later; in maiden races, I look for lightly-raced animals that were well-bet in the past. But, for the most part, I think what wins in a $2,500 claiming race will win in a $250,000 stakes race.

To be fair, however, I decided to test my theory using perhaps the best-known, if not most popular, handicapping factor known to man — speed figures. Granted, from an academic standpoint, my little test is about as thorough as a tweet summarizing the finer points of quantum theory, but, hopefully, it will provide at least a few insights.

Let’s start with an explanation of terms. The impact value, or IV, listed below represents the percentage of winners with a given characteristic divided by the percentage of starters with that characteristic. Hence, an IV of 1.00 is considered neutral; an IV greater than 1.00 is positive; and an IV less than 1.00 is deemed to be negative.

The odds-based impact value, or OBIV, is similar — only the final odds, rather than the number of entrants, determine each horse’s probability of visiting the winner’s circle. Also, because takeout and breakage are part of the final odds, a neutral OBIV (similar to an IV of 1.00) ranges from 0.80 to 0.85 (see chart below).

Now, on to the fun stuff! Using my database of over 14,300 races from across the United States and Canada, I first looked for horses that had the sole (no ties) best last-race Brisnet speed figure — just to get some baseline numbers.

Number: 10,700
Winners: 3,179
Rate: 29.7%
$2 Net Return: $1.72
IV: 2.20
OBIV: 0.87

Next, I looked at a variety of different race types, as well as purse values, which you’ll see in the chart below:


Personally, I don’t see much that excites me, with the possible exception of horses with the sole best last-race Brisnet speed figure in races featuring a purse of $75,000 to $499,999. In 333 races, these animals returned an average of $2.03 for every $2 bet — slightly profitable and significantly better than the $1.72 average $2 return for the group as a whole.

However, I would caution anybody rushing out to play these steeds that the sample size in this instance is much too small for me to be at all confident that these results will continue to be as rosy in the future — especially given that the $500K-up category produced the worst results in the survey (0.54 OBIV).

What is undeniably true is that horses possessing the best last-race Brisnet speed figure do, in fact, win more often than random chance or even their odds would suggest. And this is very encouraging given all the contrary opinions that speed figures have lost their pari-mutuel punch.