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Sunday, 6 April 2014

The Fastest Qualifier

We're now in Futurity season in Quarter Horse racing, which means that analyzing trial races will be important for handicappers. One thing handicappers should be aware of is that the fastest qualifier in a futurity isn't necessarily the fastest horse in the race.
      First off, for those who may not know, the vast majority of Quarter Horse futurities and derbies have trial races to determine their fields. Every horse in every trial is timed individually (just like any Quarter Horse race) and the top ten fastest individual times run in the final. It's a fairly effective way of determining who the best ten entrants are, but things like a poor break or changing wind speed in the middle of the trials can have a negative effect on the quality of the final.
      In Thoroughbred racing, it is not uncommon to see a horse make an easy lead, draw off to win by many lengths and finish in a very fast time, earning an inflated speed figure. A horse who makes a late rally, or a horse who wins on the front end taking pressure may win in a slower time. If these two horses come back in the same race, the handicapper needs to figure out who's faster/who will be faster on that day. Of course there are many possible scenarios, but looking at things in a basic, general sense there are two. Scenario #1: the speed horse once again gets an easy lead, wins easily again. Scenario #2: the speed horse takes pressure, cannot keep going and the rallying horse gets the win. If the rallying horse wins, his time is likely not as fast as the speed horse's previous win, but he has proven that he can outrun the speed horse.
      Since Quarter Horse racing is based around raw speed, many people believe that a horse who runs the fastest time in a trial will be the fastest in the final. This is simply not true. A great example of this came up in Sunland Park's New Mexican Spring Futurity.
     Fastest qualifier Quamados Version was very fast out of the gate in his trial, and dusted his competition by 2 3/4 lengths, clocking the 300 yards in 15.034. It was a very impressive race. Impressive enough that he was bet down to 4-5 in the final. Funnily enough, nobody who he competed with in the trial was fast enough to make it to the final. Instantly you have to question how much he beat. Class is always important. We know his fast time is aided by the lack of pressure he took. The next step is identifying who was the true fastest qualifier.
     When I handicapped this race, the horse I instantly took note of was Winning Merlot. Take a look at her running line in her trial.
The comment reads "bumped start & late, PL1st"
     As you can see, she was bumped more than once, pressured the leader, and was beaten only a nose before being placed first. Her final time of 15.154 was the fifth fastest qualifying time, but it appeared that she ran the best trial of the field. The morning line of 10-1 made her an irresistible pick.
     In the final, Winning Merlot broke quickly, dueled, and prevailed by a 1/2 length, returning $15.60 to win. Quemados Version didn't get a great break and ran a disappointing fifth at 4-5. Although Winning Merlot was not the fastest qualifier, smart handicappers could see that she ran the best trial race. Her 6-1 odds were more than fair. I believe that she should have been about 7-2.
      Don't fall for a fast time when handicapping futurity races. If a horse makes a clear lead in short race and draws off in a fast time, it likely means it didn't have to beat a tough bunch of horses. A horse who dueled and ran a slower trial can be just as, if not more talented than the fastest qualifier and will usually offer much more value. There's more to Quarter Horse racing than a fast final time. Always remember that.

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