How to Handicap a Horse Race Using Pace

Updated July 20, 2017

Winning a horse race is one of the most thrilling rushes a handicapper will feel. But ask anyone who knows a bit about horse racing and they’ll tell you that the fastest horse doesn’t always win every race. When you are talking about a horse race, one of the most important factors is pace. Here is how to handicap a race while figuring in the pace.

Figure out how the horses run. Check the most recent past performances for each horse, taking notice of how they run. Do they like to lead the race? Do they sit in a stalking position right behind the leaders? Or do they like to be in the back and come flying at the end? These are very important question to find out the answers to. Basically, horses have styles in which they like to run. If a horse’s past performances show that they are almost always in the lead for the first half of the race, you can bet that they are going to be gunning for the front in this race too. If you have a few of these horses all going for the front, you can be sure you will have a hot pace up front.

Get an idea of how the first furlong or so should go. What this means is, looking at how the horses like to run, figuring out which horse or horses you think should be in the front and then who should be right behind them. If you have three horses who constantly run in the front, there is a good likelihood that all three of those contenders will be out front at the start of the race. Consequently, if you find that your race is riddled with closing horses, then a horse might be able to get an easy lead.

Now you have to make some decisions. You have already figured out how the horses should run and where they should be after the first quarter mile. Now you need to decide how the race will be won--what style runner seems to have an edge based on how the pace will shape out. If the race has a ton of speed in it, maybe a closer can take advantage of a hot pace-battle up front, or maybe a horse will make an easy lead as the lone speed and go wire-to-wire. Now is the time to decide which type of runner will have the edge based on how fast the horses will be going up front.

Now that you have made your decision, all you have left to do is bet accordingly and cash in your winning tickets!


Pace is extremely important. Most horses can really only run so fast. The kind of fast pace that gives the edge to the closers is a first quarter-mile in under 23 seconds and a half-mile in under 47 seconds. These fast splits will cause the front runners to tire out coming around the final turn where the closers should be finding their stride. One of the best angles to bet in horse racing is lone speed. If your pace handicapping suggests that a horse can make an easy lead and should be able to run soft fractions around the track, you could make a big score.


Horse racing is not a science, and neither is pace handicapping. Do you think that Secretariat's famous Belmont win could be seen on the past performances? The splits were incredibly fast and the horse just kept going. Sometimes you do everything you can do and the cards just don't fall your way. Be careful and only gamble with money you can afford to lose.

Things You'll Need

  • Horse racing form that shows past performances
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