Sep 16 2014

For A Change Of Pace, Try The Cutback Angle

In a prior article we discussed the dynamics of a horse “stretching out” from a short race (sprint) to a longer race (route).  In particular, we covered the paradox that often occurs when a horse closes in a sprint race, comes up short, and appears to just “need a little more ground.”  Click here for review of that article.

In that article we provided an example of a horse named Pan Dulce, who finished 2nd in a 6-furlong race at Belmont, and subsequently was the 9-5 favorite in an 8-furlong race at Saratoga.  Unfortunately, for supporters of this horse, she tired in that race and was a well beaten 3rd.  But, the story doesn’t end there, and in fact her next move back into a sprint race provides material for the cutback angle.

Below are the Past Performances for Pan Dulce going into the 6th race at Saratoga on August 7, 2013.  A 5.5-furlong Turf Sprint race.

Pan Dulce PPs2

We’ve highlighted the running lines for her two recent races. Notice in the sprint race on June 22, that she closed from 7th place to 2nd.  But, in the route race on July 25, she was much closer to the pace before tiring at the finish.  Why?

Well, as is often the case, longer races are run at a slower pace.  This enabled her to be closer to the leader.  Unfortunately, she obviously didn’t have the stamina to go the extra 2 furlongs, around two turns.  And she tired at the end of the race.  Read the article mentioned above for a detailed explanation of the 1-turn vs. 2-turn change.

However, in her next race (August 7) she is being put back into a 5.5 furlong, 1-turn Sprint race.  In the handicapping world, this is referred to as a “Cutback.”  There are many variations and versions of a cutback, but this one is pretty straight forward.  A horse exits a 2-turn route, and enters a 1-turn sprint.

So, what happened?  Pan Dulce went off at odds of 5-1, much nicer than the 9-5 in her last race.  And, fairly generous when given her proven affinity for closing in a prior sprint race.  A quick pace (more on that below) was set by two other horses, Pan Dulce was back in 5th place, and then at the top of the stretch she circled around them and won by a widening 4-length margin in the end.  Returning $12.20 for her supporters.

The Pace Factor

As we alluded to above, the changes from Sprint to Routes and Routes to Sprints is often impacted by the changes in pace. Below are the fractional times for each of the three races discussed above.

Date Distance 2f Time 4f Time 3rd Split Final Time
June 22 6f :21.55 :45.26 :57.16 1:09.7
July 25 1 mile (8f) :23.77 :48.94 1:13.85 1:37.14
August 7 5.5f :21.42 :45.06 56.79 1:02.95

The most noticeable columns on here are the 2-furlong and 4-furlong times.  You can see that the sprint races are being run much faster early.  Just looking at the 4-furlong time, you can see a difference of 3+ seconds between the sprints and the route.  That equates to more than 15 lengths.  For a review on times and lengths, click here.  Horses that run that fast will often tire (think the Hare and the Tortoise), enabling a “closer” like Pan Dulce to catch them.

Contributing to this winning effort by Pan Dulce on August 7 was the likely conditioning she got by stretching out to the 8-furlong distance on July 25.  She might not be a true “route” horse, but that race probably made her a lot more fit and sharper when cutting back to a sprint distance.

Now, keep in mind that in these short turf sprint races (< 6 furlongs) it doesn’t always happen that a quick horse tires enough to enable a “closer” to catch them.  It has to be a combination of a fast pace, and a horse that can stay close enough to catch them before running out of ground.  The horse that finished 2nd to Pan Dulce on August 7 was the same horse that set those fast fractional times.

We’ll be covering a lot more on cutbacks in future articles.  There are many handicappers out there who make regular scores on this angle alone.  And, as we mentioned above, there are varying degrees and circumstances to consider when looking at a cutback situation.


Neal Headshot2
By Neal Benoit

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