Ground loss can be one of the most important factors in determining the winner of a horse race.
The closer a horse races to the rail, the less ground it has to cover. The less ground a horse covers, the better its chances of winning. Simple, right?
There are exceptions, such as when the rail is the slow part of the racetrack, but for the most part it’s logical to assume that a horse who endured an unusually wide trip could have been closer at the end had it covered less real estate.
Taking that notion a step further, an understanding of that philosophy can sometimes help to uncover a live long shot whose running lines might otherwise be uninviting.
For instance, take a look at Kentucky Lightnin, who ran in the 11th race on June 21 at Churchill Downs.
In his last three starts, Kentucky Lightnin finished fourth. His two most recent starts came at Churchill Downs in the same $10,000 maiden claimer he raced in on June 21.
In the first of the two Churchill Downs starts, he was beaten by 2 3/4 lengths at 25-1 odds. Then, on June 7, he moved from six furlongs to seven furlongs and finished seven lengths behind the winner.
A step backwards?
Not really. In that June 7 race, despite breaking from the rail, Kentucky Lightnin made a swooping, wide move on the final turn, going at least 6 or 7 paths wide. Though he moved into contention at the top of the stretch, Kentucky Lightnin flattened out in the final furlong – which wasn’t all that surprising. Maidens running for a $10,000 claiming tag are generally ill-equipped to deal with adversity. Plus, horses who have been rallying in the center of the track in the stretch – like Kentucky Lightnin did – have been coming up short on a regular basis at the Louisville track.
That wide trip made Kentucky Lightnin intriguing at 24-1. What made him an even better value play was that Feature Winner, who was third in the June 7 race, a length ahead of Kentucky Lightnin, was 6-1. Considering the extra ground Kentucky Lightnin covered in the June 7 race, he should have been around 8-1 if Feature Winner was 6-1, not three times those odds.
Those who believed Kentucky Lightnin was victimized by ground loss in his June 7 start were all smiles after his June 21 effort as he raced closer to the lead than in his last few starts and pulled away in the stretch to win by three lengths and return $51.
As for Feature Winner, he was third once again and helped round out a $2,246.60 triple.
Suffice to say, anyone who bet that correct triple combination probably hugged the rail during their mad dash to the cashier’s window.
THE LESSON: Wide trips can often mask a good performance and sometimes build a compelling case for a long shot.