Handicapping Who's Fastest Today, Not Who's Historically Fast

Following a week of wailing and gnashing of teeth by some racing fans regarding how several handicapping services measured California Chrome’s Kentucky Derby-winning performance, Doug Salvatore finally addressed the true importance of this figure in a recent post on this very blog:

“… California Chrome (or any horse) does not have to run fast to win a race, just fast enough, and there’s no question that California Chrome is the fastest horse going into this week’s Preakness Stakes. He had the fastest last-out Brisnet.com Speed Rating going into the Derby, and his 103 Derby Speed Rating is the fastest last-out rating of any horse in the Preakness.”

This is an extremely powerful angle, as betting the top last-out Brisnet.com Speed Rating in the last 15 Preaknesses (1999-2013) has an Impact Value of 5.60 and an ROI of +118% with seven of these horses winning and another four on the board (stats courtesy ALL-WAYS).

Granted, this is somewhat a self-fulfilling statistic, as the best last-out Brisnet.com Speed Rating is most often the Kentucky Derby winner, and in this time range the Derby winner has won the Preakness six times. Still, the best last-out Brisnet.com Speed Rating would have landed you on non-Derby starters and Preakness winners Bernardini and Rachel Alexandra as well as longshot runnerup Scrappy T.

2005 is an interesting study because from a Brisnet.com Speed Rating perspective that Derby was the slowest in this 15-year period, and this year’s Derby is “the slowest since Giacomo”. The first- and third-place finishers from that Derby, Giacomo and Afleet Alex, respectively, flipped those positions in the Preakness with best last-out Speed Rating Scrappy T splitting them for the place.

So despite the power of the best last-out stat as well as California Chrome’s style that Salvatore writes about in the aforementioned post, there is some wiggle room to go against him if you believe this year’s Derby figures because a slower race means a tighter concentration of talent. I.e., it’s one thing to have to make up 5-10 points on a multiple Grade 1 winner but another to only need to find a few points of improvement.

Social Inclusion has the second-best last-out Brisnet.com Speed Rating with a 99 when third in the TwinSpires.com Wood Memorial Stakes, a race that held its form pretty well with winner Wicked Strong nosing out runner-up Samraat for fourth in the Derby (I still want to see that photo). Social Inclusion also has the co-best lifetime Brisnet.com Speed Rating with a 106—the same number California Chrome received for his Santa Anita Derby romp.

Of the 16 horses to start the Preakness since 1999 whose last Brisnet.com Speed Rating was within four points of the top two won and the ROI is +30%. I.e. dutching the best last-out Brisnet.com Speed Rating and any horse in the Preakness within 4 points of that rating would have yielded a +72.5% return on investment!

So how do you use this information to make money in the Preakness? For me, it’s with a heavy dose of Social Inclusion, who will be at least three times the price as California Chrome, but I can’t completely toss the favorite, and I’ll be using a lot of my handicapping time over the next few days finding the vulnerable favorites in other races that would making getting live to an odds on favorite in the $.10 Pick 5 with a carryover lucrative. I’m less interested in the Preakness verticals with California Chrome on top because the likelihood of Social Inclusion finishing second or third is so high, but I’ll certainly play around with Social Inclusion on top there.

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