You’ve read repeatedly in this column that handicapping 1 ¼-mile races such as the King’s Plate and the Kentucky Derby is about examining the closing fractions of horses in their 1 1/8-mile races. That rule worked to perfection in the mid-summer derby, the 1 ¼-mile Travers Stakes at Saratoga on Saturday.

The two horses that had notched 36 1/5-second closing fractions in 1 1/8-mile races—the best in the race—finished one-two. #2 Archangelo won the race at odds of 5-2 and #6 Disarm closed on him at odds of 12-1. The $1 exactor paid $36.25.

Just to remind you how to calculate closing fractions: You compute how quickly a horse runs from the 6-furlong point in the race to the end of the race. You add or subtract one-fifth second for each length the horse has lost or gained in that closing part of the race.

The Travers anchored an all-stakes pick-4 where rules ruled in every leg. The unfortunate first leg, the H. Allen Jerkins Memorial Stakes in which race leader New York Thunder went down in the stretch, one of two tragic breakdowns on the day, was a 7-furlong race which are often won by horses with the best 7-furlong speed figure. The ultimate winner at 19-1, #2 One in Vermillion, was one of the top three highest 7-furlong speed horses. You hate to win that way but there it was—a horse that belonged on horizontal exotics tickets.

The following race, the Ballerina Stakes, was also a 7-furlong event which was won by 3-5 Echo Zulu, who had the second-highest 7-furlong speed figure.

And in the third leg of the pick-4, the Sword Dancer at 1 ½-miles on the turf, the winner jumped off the page for me because the rule has worked so well in Breeders’ Cup turf races. In classy turf races, you look for horses that have raced for the highest purses. #3 Bolshoi Ballet at 5-1 had come over from England where he had raced in a $1.6 million stakes race at Ascot. He had been 125-1 in that race but he won easily on Saturday against North American foes. The other choice in the race was #7 Stone Age at 2-1 who had also raced in higher-purse races but seemed compromised by not having raced since February.

The pick-4 paid $3,004 for $1 but, with rules dominating, you didn’t require a very big ticket to land it.

Nailing an 81-1 horse wasn’t that complicated

“The tote board is still burning.”

That was the colourful comment by Assiniboia Downs track announcer Kirt Contois as he analyzed race 8 on last Tuesday’s ASD race card after the winner of the previous race, an eight-year-old mare, Hey Hey Run Away, paid a scorching $164.40 to win — which resulted in a U.S. bettor taking down the entire superfecta pool of $10K USD for 20-cents.

Was she a near-impossible horse to play? Not at all. The eye-popping reality is that the top three finishers in the nine-horse field had a simple thing going for them: Their past performance lines showed they had notched the top pace numbers of all horses in the field. It was a 5 ½-furlong sprint and early speed is what short races are about. In 5-furlong and 5 ½-furlong races, if you circle each horse’s best pace number (for the year) in the Equibase program you’ll be on your way to ferreting out the most likely contenders.

Here are the three horses with the top pace numbers on the year (see program page here):

#5 (7-5) – 99 pace number
#7 (9-1) – 88
#9 (81-1) – 87

The race result was 9-7-5. The $1 triactor paid a juicy $2,739. Even a $1 exactor paid $607. In fact, #5, the mare with the highest pace figure, was in the lead to late stretch when #9 and #7 passed her. One way to have scooped the superfecta (which paid $10,150 USD for a single 20-cent ticket) would have been by wheeling those three horses in the top three positions with “all” in the bottom at a cost of $7.20.

Short sprints can often be chaotic affairs in which a horse or horses can make a sudden surge out of the pack at the wire and—counter-intuitively—it’s been my experience that horses with the highest pace figures and not those with high closing speed numbers have the best chance.

Why not put this sprint rule into play on tonight’s ASD card that starts at 7:30 p.m. CT and features two 5 ½-furlong sprint races? The program is available in the Player Portal at