How many times have you seen a horse finish strongly to win, but then only plod home at its next start and never look a winning hope? What about the front-runner that defies all challengers in the straight one start, but is then beaten inside the 200m mark at its next? These sudden form reversals may seem like just another element in the great uncertainty of racing, but they can often be explained by one very important factor, the influence of early pace.
Early pace refers to the speed each race settles into after the field has accelerated from the barriers and jockeys have found their position in running. It’s often measured as speed to the 800m or 600m mark. What makes early pace so important is that it varies from race to race, depending on the speed and preferred running style of each horse, their barrier draw and the riding tactics of jockeys.
In some races there may be a lack of natural leaders or horses that have good speed out of the barriers. That means there is no need for the jockey’s to be too urgent in the early stages and they can find their positions without asking their horses to run too fast. The end result is that the field tends to run along at a slow pace and then sprint home from the 600m mark or sometimes even the 400m mark. In other races there may be a number of horses that have good natural speed and like to race somewhere up near the lead. Depending on barrier draws the jockeys on those horses have to be more urgent early, run faster to find their position and that helps to establish a genuine or strong early pace.
Different levels of early pace have different implications for how well suited individual horses are and the challenge they face to win the race. Consider the following example of three races run over 1200m. All races finish with the same final time of 70 seconds, but each has a different level of early pace.