When elite speed horses duel, consider the possibility one will falter

August 8th, 2023

What happens when the two best horses in a race are pacesetters with lots of early speed? The answer isn’t always what you expect.

You might assume that their talent and speed will allow them to run first and second, outrunning all their challengers. Or you might conclude that they’ll hook up in a speed duel and tire each other out, setting up the race for a closer.

Certainly these scenarios can unfold, but there’s a third outcome often seen but not always predicted. That’s the possibility of one speed horse surviving a pace duel to win the race while the other speed horse tires and finishes off the board, allowing longer shots to round out the exacta and trifecta.

This was seen on Aug. 4, 2023 in the Real Good Deal S. at Del Mar, a seven-furlong dirt sprint for California-bred three-year-olds. Six horses faced the starter, with Kangaroo Court favored at 7-5 over Bus Buzz at 19-10.

In terms of Brisnet E1 and E2 Pace ratings, Kangaroo Court and Bus Buzz had the most early speed in the race. They’d met twice before, with Kangaroo Court getting the better of Bus Buzz by 1 3/4 lengths in a six-furlong $50,000 allowance optional claimer before edging his rival by a head in the 6 1/2-furlong Echo Eddie S. In both of those races, Bus Buzz carved out blazing fractions with Kangaroo Court in hot pursuit.

The betting in the Real Good Deal projected an identical outcome, with Kangaroo Court coming out on top of Bus Buzz. But a closer analysis of the form lines suggested a different possibility.

Following the Echo Eddie, Kangaroo Court had faded to finish 11th when tackling tougher competition in the Pat Day Mile (G2) at Churchill Downs, a significant regression from his previous form. In contrast, Bus Buzz entered the Real Good Deal off a 6 1/2-length victory in a six-furlong $40,000 allowance optional claimer in which he set terrific fractions of :21.55 and :43.92.

Bus Buzz entered the Real Good Deal in career-best form and seemed destined to set the pace. Kangaroo Court figured to track him in second place, but had to be viewed as vulnerable off his subpar showing in the Pat Day Mile. If Kangaroo Court got sucked into chasing a blazing pace, there was a possibility he would weaken again and finish behind a higher-priced rival like King Glorious S. winner Giver Not a Taker or Echo Eddie third-place runner Clouseau.

That’s exactly what happened. In the Real Good Deal, Bus Buzz opened up a three-length lead through hot fractions of :22.10 and :44.23, then kicked away to win by 4 1/4 lengths. Kangaroo Court tracked the pace for half a mile, but then faded down the homestretch to finish fifth. Giver Not a Taker rallied to complete a $2 exacta that paid $25.60, while Clouseau completed a $2 trifecta that returned $82.80.

The next time you see two talented speed horses square off at short odds, ask yourself if one is faster or in clearly stronger form than the other. If you can beat the weaker of the two speed horses in exotic wagers, you may be in line to cash surprisingly nice payoffs.