Dougie Sal Talks Pace & Frustration

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TwinSpires Staff

October 31st, 2014

"Pace makes the race" is an old and famous adage. It is a handicapping truth across virtually all distances, surfaces, and class levels. Much has already been speculated on the anticipated pace scenarios in this years Breeders' Cup races. In fact, some very good projected pace analysis has already been written for this weekends big races at Santa Anita.

Make no mistake, I believe it's absolutely necessary for any serious handicapper to try and forecast the early pace scenario in virtually any race he or she plans to bet. The obvious exception being 2-year-old maiden races where the field generally lacks much in the way of proven form. However, while necessary to project an expected pace scenario before a race, the task often proves a fools errand once the gate opens. The break can have a big impact on how the pace unfolds and the early tactics jockeys employ will have a major impact on how the pace develops. What's more, when a projected pace scenario generally seems obvious, trainers and jockeys usually are aware of it and they often try to impose their will on their horse. Indeed, if a race has five early speed types in it, at least a few of their jockeys will often try to rate them, in an effort to avoid a pace meltdown. Conversely, if a race completely lacks early speed on paper, there's sure to be at least one jockey on a marginal contender or overmatched horse, who will be hellbent on making the early lead. 

The fact that early pace projections often go up in smoke is not only a maddening reality for a handicapper, but it is the cause of more jockey cursing than anything else. A few years ago, I managed to break three laptops in a span of less than a month, in two instances I broke them by punching the screen about 10-to-15 seconds into a race, when the pace did not unfold as I hoped or the jockey of my bet made an egregious tactical error.

Obviously, jockeys are in a tough spot when they have to make decisive tactical decisions in the early stage of a race. It's not like they can watch a TV feed of the gate break while they ride. They simply don't have the capability to see how all of the other jockeys in the race are sending or restraining their mount. 

Projecting a pace in an upcoming race is filled with many pitfalls, but there are virtually no pitfalls involved with analyzing the pace of a race that has been completed weeks ago.

It's because of these realities that pace handicapping works best when analyzing past races, as opposed to projecting trips for today's race. 

Without any further ado, here's a look at five horses that were negatively impacted by extreme paces in their final prep.

Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf: Partisan Politics (15/1 Morning Line) breaking from post position ten in her last start, the plan seemed to be 'take back, and save ground' but that plan was undermined by a brutally slow early pace. Indeed, Partisan Politics was rank under strong restraint and caught in tenth place early, behind a brutally slow early pace. She carved her way through the pack and ran on well, and managed a non-threatening fourth place finish in what might have been a weak prep. Still, the performance was much better than it looks on paper.

Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile: Tapiture (6/1 Morning Line) had a very tough task in the Pennsylvania Derby. While eventual winner Bayern enjoyed an uncontested early lead over an extremely inside-speed favoring track, Tapiture tried to make a 3-wide sweeping move on the far turn, into the teeth of the strongest part of the race. Tapiture stayed on gallantly for second, and ran a much better race than California Chrome did. Cutting back to a mile, and with a lot more early pace to close into, Tapiture has a good chance to spring a minor upset in the Dirt Mile.

Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint: Stonetastic (8/1 Morning Line) looked like a sensation when she dominated the Grade 2 Prioress at Saratoga by 8.5 lengths over what was a strong inside-speed favoring track. She lost a lot of luster with the public in defeat, while third in the Thoroughbred Club of America last time out. However, Stonetastic engaged in a breakaway speed duel with the very fast R Free Roll. They hooked up from the bell, and quickly separated on the pack. Stonetastic won the battle, as her pace rival R Free Roll faded to fifth as the 3/1 second choice in the betting, but she lost the war. Look for Stonetastic to run a much improved race, especially if she's able to get an unpressured early lead.

Breeders' Cup Juvenile: Upstart (8/1 Morning Line) is bred extremely well for a route of ground, as both his grand sire A. P. Indy and his damsire Touch Gold were Belmont Stakes winners. In the Champagne, Upstart rated in fifth position behind a 46.22 half mile. By comparison, the fillies in the Frizette ran a 46.11 half mile two races earlier on that same card. They flew home in the Champagne, and while Upstart was unable to threaten the speed Daredevil, he did manage to finish almost 13 lengths clear of the third place finisher.

Breeders' Cup Mile: Obviously (8/1 Morning Line) won the Grade 1 Shoemaker over this course and distance two starts back --- and he did it by carving out supersonic early fractions. Last time out, Obviously blew the break, and that is devastating for a need-the-lead speed horse. He fought Joe Talamo and pulled his way to a loose lead, before fading to finish fourth at odds of 2/5 in a race that was entirely excusable and better than looked, because of the poor start. If Obviously is able to get loose, he could prove an elusive target in the Mile.