File photo by Eclipse Sportswire
There are dozens of ways to analyze a horse race, but sometimes the easiest way is the best way.
A case in point is the fifth race at Saratoga on Aug. 15. The post time favorite was Latigo Trail, a horse who had finished second in his last two starts at Belmont Park.
Each time, he held a clear lead at the eighth pole in a turf sprint - most recently by three lengths and by two lengths the time before that.
Each time he was passed, losing by a half-length last time and by a nose in his previous start.
Based on that information alone, it was logical to figure that someone would probably collar Latigo Trail in the shadow of the finish line once again.
Except that there was something different about this race.
Unlike Belmont Park, where turf sprints are contested at six furlongs, Saratoga’s turf course allows for a 5 1/2-furlong turf sprint. A horse such as Latigo Trail that was narrowly beaten at six furlongs now had a shorter distance of ground standing between him and the finish line.
Logic indicated he would be much tougher to catch in a shorter race. Some might have argued that even at 5 ½ furlongs an inherently quicker pace would, as usual, take a toll on Latigo Trail in the final yards. Nevertheless the difference between six furlongs and 5 ½ furlongs was the handicapping angle that seemed most important in deciding who would reach the finish line first.
In the end, in a tip of the cap to Captain Obvious, what seemed obvious was indeed obvious.
This time, Latigo Trail pressed the pace in second while 5-2 second-choice Vischer Ferry set the pace. He forged to the front at the quarter pole and actually pulled away in the final furlong to win by 3 ¼ lengths.
The payoff was $5.30 for a $2 bet, which isn’t a king’s ransom.
But it was easy.
THE LESSON: Sometimes the most obvious handicapping angle is the best one. Just ask Captain Obvious.