By Ed Burgart, Los Alamitos Announcer
(The following column is reprinted from the August 2002 edition of Quarter Racing Journal. Request an issue online or call 1-800-291-7323.)
If we want to be lazy and occasionally get lucky when handicapping American Quarter Horse races, then we can look at the horse with the highest speed index as the most likely winner. But if we want to be successful and cash tickets on horses with profitable odds, we need to look beyond a horse's speed index.
A horse earns a high speed index by recording a quick time at a particular distance. The AQHA has formulated a speed index chart for each recognized North American quarter horse track. The speed index chart is based on times accumulated at a particular distance over the past three years. The chart can be accessed from the AQHA Racing Web site's Handicapper's Help section.
Then, why doesn't the horse with the highest speed index always win?
When looking at a speed index, we must consider the track at which a horse earned its number. A prime example occurred in a 350-yard Ed Burke Memorial Futurity (G1) trial at Los Alamitos on July 13. Chickie Cherry Cola had earned a 105 SI in winning the American Airlines Northwest Challenge (G3) in its last start at Les Bois Park. One of the trial's contenders, Morning Snow, had earned a 97 SI in capturing the Kindergarten Futurity in her last out. While the betting public still sent Morning Snow off at 3-5, Chickie Cherry Cola was well-supported at 3-1. The Idaho invader was never a factor in his Burke trial.
What happened? First, Les Bois Park cards daytime racing in which times are often faster - consider as an example the speed index chart for Sunland Park. Second, Chickie Cherry Cola had never before raced at night.
Third, Chickie Cherry Cola's high speed index was accomplished over a track that offers fewer Quarter Horse racing opportunities than a year-round facility such as Los Alamitos. Earning a high speed index at a track such as Los Alamitos is more difficult, as far more 350-yard dashes are offered over a three-year period than at smaller tracks in Wyoming, Utah and Idaho.
Since speed indexes can vary dramatically from one distance to another, always consider the distance in which a horse earned its speed index.
The most glaring examples come in 2-year-old races. Young horses that earn high 300-yard speed indexes often fail to repeat them at 350 yards. Why? At nearly every Quarter Horse track, 2-year-olds comprise the majority of 300-yard dashes. Thus, the speed index chart over the past three years at 300 yards is comprised of times mainly earned by 2-year-olds. By comparison, 350 yards is the major distance for older horses. Naturally, more mature horses run faster than those that are younger. Consequently, it is difficult for a 2-year-old to earn a high 350-yard speed index.
So when handicapping 2-year-old races, look at each horse closely. Let's use the eighth Ed Burke Memorial Futurity trial at 350 yards as an example. Red Lipstick justified her even-money favorite's role by running to the 95 speed index she'd earned at 300 yards. But Sum Special Strawfly, which had earned 78 and 85 speed indexes at 350 yards in his last two races, finished second at 11-1. Savvy handicappers profited by using Sum Special Strawfly in their exacta - of the four horses that had previously run 350 yards in this trial, Sum Special Strawfly had the highest SI. The $1 exacta returned $13.90.
Handicappers who are willing to do their homework also consider wind conditions and trouble notes when comparing speed indexes. A high speed index with a tail wind and no trouble is not as significant as a lower number that resulted from a head wind and a significant trip note such as "bumped both sides."
Remember, successful handicappers don't like the words lazy and lucky. Players who use a more detailed approach are often rewarded with nice returns.