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HRN Original Blog:
Handicapper's Corner

Middle Moves Lead to Winning Moves

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.

Please be sure to follow me on Twitter-@Cappercorner and/or friend me on facebook.com to continue the horse racing conversation!

Past performances provided by Brisnet


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Older Comments about Middle Moves Lead to Winning Moves...

a race depends upon the interaction of the CURRENT potentials of the entrants. You cannot put a par value of that
I am a big fan of the Beyer Pars, but do not know what is the appropriate adjustment for state bred races....does anyone have an adjustment they do for state bred races at Fair Grounds, Santa Anita and Aqueduct? Thanks! Steve at merciecas@hotmail.com
Jasen, this is good stuff, you really need to write more of this material!
Middle moves need to be coordinated with a stron F1 move, or on the grass and F3 move to really be effective. A stong middle by itslef is usually not an effective winning move
Animal Kingdom had a big middle move into the turn in his Derby prep that stood out to me.
Pace handicappers have made a career on evaluating horses that have a two fraction advantage over the field. These are often hidden positionally, but stand out when looking at the fractional velocity segements of the pace of the race versuss the pace of the horse. The animals that can press or overcome the pace are the usual winners, but there are many many that create most of the fractions and are never touched, so there are many areas to view. Turf horses usually move in the 2nd and third fractions and then each track has its peculiarites that must be taken in account as well as the daily biases that often come up.
That was one of my best BC's ever. I aslo made some big dough on Thor's Echo in the Sprint and had Miesque's Approval score in the 3rd leg of a pick 3 that I punched "all" on. Those days don't occur often enough :)
Thanks for the compliment. I had Street Sense too, but that's only because I lucked out & wheeled Circular Quay in 1st & 2nd in exactas & SS was one of my other contenders.
This is well-written, tight and concise. Instructional blogs like these will only improve our site and gain even more followers. Nice job, Jasen!
I bet Street Sensein the Juvenile based on numerous 3, 4 and 5-wide trips and his rail draw-correctly guessing that Calvin would glue himself to the goldeb rail after racing wide the previous race and losing the lead late. 15/1 was a steal!
Hidden fractions work better on grass
Great stuff, Jasen ... exactly the angle I used to bet Street Sense in the 2006 BC Juvenile.

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Meet Jasen Mangrum

My interest in the Sport of Kings goes back over 25 years with my father taking me with his friends to the old Ak-Sar-Ben Race Course in Omaha, NE.  From those early experiences I was able to read the Daily Racing Form before the age of 10.  Once The Woodlands opened in Kansas City in 1988, I became totally hooked on the sport studying racing charts after homework and tennis practice.  In recent years, with the explosion of handicapping tournaments, my love for handicapping the races has risen to a new level.  Primarily focused on New York, Chicago and Louisiana racing, I have now been forced to study races far and wide in attempt to find “cap horses” in the tournaments I play.  I have also dabbled in horse ownership within syndicates and on my own.


My fondest memories in racing include Silver Charm’s 1997 Kentucky Derby victory.  Both my father and I selected him, which made for a memorable day.  The best race I’ve seen was Tiznow’s first Breeders Cup Classic win in 2000 when he outdueled Giant’s Causeway down the length of the Churchill Downs stretch.   My biggest windfall as a gambler was a pool-scooping pick-4 win, paying over $6,600 at The Woodlands in 2005.


The point of this blog is to get everyone out there a few winners, but also to go in depth at how I come to the conclusions that I do.  From week to week, I’ll explain angles I think are important to locate winners.  I encourage others to post picks they like too, but please explain how you come to your conclusions.  That way everyone can learn a little more about this great game, and add another weapon to their handicapping arsenal.-Best of luck, Jasen Mangrum

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