What is tactical speed in horse racing and how to handicap it
When the Triple Crown and other classic races come up each year, the topic of tactical speed and how to use it to handicap horse racing usually comes up. Some people are confused about what tactical speed actually is, while others deny its value. Tactical speed, in my opinion, exists and is very important for several reasons.
Tactical speed is the horse’s ability to get close to the front runners early in the race and maintain a comfortable position to be able to strike the lead when the opportunity presents itself. The opportunity is usually when the front runners start to tire. Having tactical speed allows the horse to stay out of trouble because it is close to the front and is less likely to be blocked or need to be taken.
Tactical speed should not be confused with early speed, although tactical speed horses have some early speed abilities. The difference is that a horse with tactical speed does not need to be in the lead and can also change pace and speed later in the race when the other early pacers are tired. Horses like “Big Brown” for example have tactical speed. The fact that his dam is out of Nureyev, a sire known for producing horses that can cover classic distances, is an indicator that he is likely to have tactical speed.
When I’m handicapping and looking for tactical speed, I look at the horse’s position in his last few races to see if he was within 5 lengths of the leader in the early calls and how much speed he showed at the end of the race. Now here is the key. A horse with good tactical speed not only overtakes front runners who are tiring, but also keeps pace or overtakes horses coming from far off the pace. For example, if a horse runs within 5 lengths of the front runners, takes the lead at the top of the stretch, or gains the lead in the stretch despite a late bump from another competitor coming from off pace, I consider that a horse with good tactical speed.
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