Pace handicapping is actually a two-step process. The question is not "How fast will they go," but (in the case of front runners), "How fast can this horse go and still win?"
"A lot of pace in the race" doesn't set the race up for a closer if three front runners are gassed after a :22 first quarter and :45 half but a fourth horse is able to run those fractions and still come home in :24 for 1:09 for six furlongs. A closer five lengths off that pace would have to come home in :23 for a chance, and that's no easy task.
As countless handicapping books have told me (and by countless, I mean I'm too lazy to count them, not that it's an infinite number, but it's a lot trust me), the idea that most closers (on dirt) run faster late than early is an illusion. I won't say most horses do their "best" running early, but it's certainly the fastest part of the race more often than not, which is why so-called speed biases have more to do with the animals contesting the race than the surface itself, but I digress because that's off the topic of Mucho Macho Man and Lea winning the Woodward and Forego Stakes (links to FREE Brisnet.com Ultimate Past Performances), respectively, on Saturday at Saratoga Race Course--the summer place to be celebrating 150 years of aristocratic merriment in the foothill of the Adirondack Mountains (for past performances for all of Saturday's races at Saratoga [plus access to analysis products] visit the Brisnet.com Special Reports page).
Admittedly, Mucho Macho Man is a bit of a price play, as I don't see him as the most likely winner of the race, but I do see him as likely a winner of the other obvious horses (in alphabetical order) Flat Out, Paynter, and Successful Dan (Alpha & Ron The Greek can beat me). So if your fair odds on Flat Out, Paynter, and Successful Dan are 3-to-1 then Mucho Macho Man figures nicely at 4-to-1 (that leaves a 19-to-1 chance that either of "can beat me" horses actually beat me).
So what does Mucho Macho Man have to do to win? Well, he's done it six times in his career, and every time he's been either on the lead or in second place after the first quarter mile. Put another way, he's winless in nine starts when not first or second after a quarter mile and 6-for-15 when in that position.
Can he be there on Saturday in the Woodward? The Brisnet.com pace figures easily say yes. With Fort Larned out, Paynter and Mucho Macho Man are tied for the best early pace last race figure. Early pace measures from the start to the first call, and it's several points back to Flat Out and the rest.
Like most high-class animals racing in quality races, Mucho Macho Man goes faster for the first six furlongs than he does for the first half mile. His E2 pace rating (start to second call) was 109 last time, but that's not even close to what he's capable of. When he won the Suburban last year he popped a 100 through half a mile and then a 117 through six furlongs and kept on going.
I'm betting on the come here, because there is no guarantee he'll keep on going this time, but I do think there's a better than 20% chance that he does, and that makes him a good play.
Take a look at the race summary below and check out how Mucho Macho Man stacks up against the rest in average and best pace. Is he a standout? No, but considering the prices I think he's the obvious bet.
The Forego is a different situation, as I'm playing against the speed in this race, but I don't think Lea is as much of a stretch as everyone else.
Lea was everyone's sexy pick to upset Horse of the Year Wise Dan in both the Firecracker and Fourstardave Handicaps. He was 9-to-2 in both attempts and never really threatened the dual champion with a now-eight-race winning streak. He'll be at least double (and more likely triple) that price in the Forego with a lot of positive angles in play, including going turf to dirt on the cut back.
It's also worth noting that his best race came in a one-turn dirt affair. Granted, that was off the turf on a sloppy track, but there is no reason to think that Lea can't fulfill his promise with a Grade 1 win here.
WAGERING STRATEGY: I'll play Lea across the board. There's no reason to get cute in exotics when he'll be a square price and you'll get paid just for hitting the board. As for the Woodward, Mucho Macho Man is a win-place candidate.
As for multiple-race wagers, there's an all-graded-stakes Pick 3 that begins with the Bernard Baruch, and Silver Max is a single for me in there and a win bet at odds of 8-to-5 or better (I'll single him down to even money). I'll play him with ALL in the Forego and the aforementioned quartet in the Woodward for $32. I'll also give myself a chance to really by right by playing Silver Max-Lea and Lea-Mucho Macho Man doubles.
Ed DeRosa is director of marketing for Brisnet.com. Follow him on Twitter, and contributes to the TwinSpires.com blog.