There are primarily 3 categories of handicapping: pace/speed figures, class and trip handicappers. Though debatable which is superior, those who can mix and match them best are the most successful. If I had to label myself, I would toss me in the pace/speed figure barrel. I am constantly trying to predict how races will lay out and whether it will set up for front runners, stalkers or deep closers. One piece of the puzzle I take in account when handicapping are runners who make middle moves in the interior fractions of a race.
Middle moves are horses that gain ground into the fastest portion of the race. Though they may not win, making a positive move into the hottest fraction of the race signals a horse in good physical condition that should be taken seriously in future efforts. I find this angle most powerful in dirt sprints at 7 furlongs or less. The reason being is that when a middle move is made in a sprint it is usually done between the ¼ and ½ mile poles, which is run around turn. Therefore, not only is a horse gaining ground into the fastest part of a race, they are doing it while running around a turn and not on a straight away. I don’t ignore middle moves in grass races, but in most of those races the field is bunched together early traveling at a snail’s pace and then they finish with a flourish. It is not uncommon for the first ¼ of a 1-mile grass race to go in 24 seconds and then the final ¼ to be run in 23 and change. Middle moves made in 2-turn dirt races are noteworthy, but they usually occur in the second quarter of the race while running down the backstretch, since the majority of the opening quarters in 2-turn routes are run around the first turn. Middle moves are least effective by horses gain ground between the ¼ and ½ mile poles of 1-turn route races. They are relatively common in these elongated sprints where horses are traveling their fastest after running straight for at least the first half of the race. Tracks such as Churchill Downs, Belmont Park, Arlington Park, Gulfstream Park, Laurel Park and Aqueduct all card these races. Gulfstream Park is particularly notorious for a 24-change opening ¼ mile, followed by a 46-change ½ mile in 1-turn 1-mile races.
Let’s take a look at how to find and calculate middle moves:
Jaguar Paw is a perfect example of a horse showing common middle moves at 1-turn dirt routes. In his race on March 9th, Jaguar Paw set the pace running the opening quarter in 24 4/5 seconds and the ½ mile in 47 2/5 seconds. Therefore, Jaguar Paw ran in the second quarter mile in 22 3/5 seconds (47.4-24.8=22.6 or 22 3/5). On February 12th he was 6 ½ lengths behind an opening quarter in 24 4/5 seconds and 4 ½ lengths behind a ½ mile run in 47 4/5 seconds. Jaguar Paw gained 2 lengths in the 2nd quarter. If 1 length equals 1/5 (or 0.2) of a second, let’s calculate his second quarter, which happens to be the fastest quarter of the race (47.8-24.8=23, then subtract 2/5 for 2 lengths gained, 23-.4=22.6 or 22 3/5). Finally, on 10/29/2010 Jaguar Paw was 1 ½ lengths off an opening quarter of 24 seconds and 1 length off a half mile in 47 4/5. Jaguar Paw’s 2nd quarter mile was run in 23.7 (47.8-24-.1) seconds.
Big Screen was entered in a 1 1/8 mile Maiden Special Weight at Gulfstream Park on 12/31. You can see that his December 4th race was a 2-turn route in which he gained 1 length into the 2nd quarter mile that was run in 24 seconds. Therefore, his 2nd quarter mile was 23 4/5 (48.6-24.6=24-.2=23.8, forecasting a top performance was in the making. In his next effort on 12/31, it did not hurt that Big Screen was running second time off a layoff, with 2 nice workouts since his race on 12/4, he was well bet and did not disappoint as he returned $7.80 for his backers.
Finally, When Willy Win made a middle move to capture a 6-furlong $9,300 claiming race for non-winners of 2 races in a lifetime at Assiniboia Downs back on 8/13/2011. Willy was 2.5 lengths behind a first quarter of 23 3/5 seconds, and 1.5 lengths off a half mile time was 46 3/5, making his 2nd quarter time 22.8 (46.6-23.6-.2). This move showed Willy’s high level of current fitness, and it was carried onto subsequent efforts. When routing for the first time on 8/26, he missed by a nose in a first-level allowance race after a troubled start. Following that race, Willy shipped down from Canada to win a 15K claiming route at Remington Park on 10/8.
It is my hope that readers profit by incorporating this angle into their handicapping repertoire for years to come. Though useful in multiple situations, please note that middle moves are most rare, and thus, most powerful in sprint races as signaling a horse’s movement to future peak efforts.
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Past performances provided by Brisnet