Speed & Pace Handicapping
Winning at the Track

Horse Race Handicapping Basics

Speed & Pace Handicapping Basics


The typical North American racetrack is a one mile (8 furlongs) oval with the finish line located just before the end of the stretch.  When the oval is shorter than one mile it is often referred to as a "bull ring."  The horses run counter-clockwise on the loam (dirt) racing surface, and in a few cases, plastic-based polytrack.  Also, a turf (grass) course is used at many of the larger tracks.

The Winning at the Track program, or WATT as it is often called, can be used to handicap almost every racetrack in North America.

Sprints (distances of 1 mile and under)

Sprints often begin in the chute at the far end of the backstretch, and the "first call" is 1/4 mile (2 furlongs) from the starting gate.  At most racetracks, except for the mile contest,  the horses run only one turn.

The "second call" of a sprint race is usually located just before the stretch and is 1/2 mile (4 furlongs) from the starting gate.

Typical Sprint


Routes (distances of more than 1 mile)

Routes often begin in front of the stands and the "first call" is 1/2 mile (4 furlongs) from the starting gate.  At most racetracks, the horses run two turns in a route contest.

The "second call" of a route race is usually located just before the stretch and is 3/4 mile (6 furlongs) from the starting gate.

Typical Route

Handicapping Details

Rating the Horse

The principle difference between a sprint and a route is the way the jockey rides the horse.  And this enters into the way these races are handicapped.  In routes, the jockey "rates" the horse (holds the horse back earlier in the contest to conserve energy for the stretch run).  On the other hand, a sprint is considerably more dynamic.  When a horse is rated in a route contest, up to six lengths can be taken from its all-out effort to the second call point.

Early and Late Speed

A horse that demonstrates a superior ability to run to the second call point is one that is said to have good EARLY SPEED.  A contender that runs well between the second call point and the finish line (i.e., in the Last Quarter) is said to be one with good LATE SPEED.

The WATT program provides Early Speed and Late Speed ratings for each horse.   Users can see graphically which horses can run with the pace and which cannot.

The Pacesetters

Whether it is a sprint or route, how fast a horse runs between the starting gate and the second call point is called the POLE SPEED.  When one or more horses are leading at the second call point in the contest, they are referred to as the PACESETTERS and the pole speed of the leader is called the "pace."

The pace set is important because the contest is about 70% complete at this point..

The Winning at the Track handicapping program identifies two pacesetters with a very high degree of accuracy.  They may not win, but one of these two will appear in the exacta 55% of the time.  Speed & pace handicapping begins with the pacesetters. With WATT, one can see which horse(s) can run with the pace and which cannot..

speed and pace handicapping               speed and pace handicapping   

Dirt and Turf

The majority of contests in North America are run on the dirt, although many turf courses are also available.  Typically, a "firm" grass course will produce a faster time than a dirt racing surface.  When excessive moisture is present in the turf, the clockings can be considerably slower than dirt.  This notable variance with grass is the principle reason why computer handicapping turf races presents an inherently greater risk.

Here is a valuable rule for handicappers to remember: Good horses that run well on the dirt, usually run well on the turf.  However, horses that run well on the turf do not necessarily run well on the dirt.

For this reason, WATT handicappers have the opportunity to omit the turf lines in each horse's History Worksheet when the race is scheduled to run on the dirt.  For grass races, turf and dirt lines are retained.  Though not absolutely necessary, this process can be improved with one or two minutes in file preparation time for each dirt contest.

Regardless of whether the surface is dirt, rubber, or grass, WATT adjusts the figures with a high degree of accuracy.  This is the main reason why WATT is superior to its competition.

Racing Times

Generally speaking, a horse runs the length of its body in roughly one-fifth of second.  Thus, when a horse wins by a full second, it has beaten the place horse by about five lengths.  This is a basic assumption built into the Winning at the Track program.  In addition, the WATT program adjusts the distances by using a "parallel speed table" and all the racing surfaces are adjusted.  This includes early and late speed adjustments for each distance at each racetrack.

Within the WATT program, each distance has a "basis time" as a benchmark for comparison.  For example, the basis time for 4 furlongs is 0:44.0.  Thus, any horse that runs the basis time of 0:44.0 is awarded a Pole Speed Rating of 100.  Any horse that runs a 0:44.1 is given a rating of 99.  A 4 furlong time of 0:44.2 has a rating of 98.  If the half mile time is 0.46.0, the Pole Speed rating becomes 90, and so on.

Thus, with the WATT handicapping program, each horse is awarded ratings for both early and late speed efforts.  These are referred to as "Pole Speed" and "Last Quarter" ratings.  These numerical values are created by using the adjustments noted above and internal "basis times" tables.

The P/M Ratings

The WATT program provides the handicapper with a final Performance Method rating for each horse.  The details are explained within the program.  Included is a summary called the Best-4 PM Ratings.  Based on 10,000+ races, one of the top 2 will appear in the exacta 72% of the time.  And one of the top 3 will be in the exacta 85-90% of the time.  In short, the "Key Horse" for the race is almost always found among the best three.

Introducing the New Interactive Service

Later, when you learn more about the mechanics of Winning at the Track you will see why the WATT program is, by far, the best and the most accurate speed/pace handicapping program available today.

Easy To Use!

"Winning at the Track is, by far, the best contender-selection program available!   And, I've used 'em all."

N.S., Connecticut



"I have been handicapping for many years and was one in the original group that studied with Dr. Sartin, so I know a lot about handicapping and computer use.

I have been using your Winning at the Track  program for several years now because I have found it to be the best that I have ever used ..."

L.R., Kentucky


Winning at the Track DATABASE program


Website Map for

Website Map for HorseRacing

(954) 573-7236

Liberty Publishing Company, Inc.

To The Money Page

Home Page

Handicapping Software and Books

e-mail to the Publisher

NO-SPAM PLEDGE:  We will never rent, sell, or give away your e-mail address to anyone for any reason.


Liberty Publishing Company, Inc. is now celebrating its 39th year in business!