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What does the saying “Time matters only when you’re in jail” mean in horse racing?
This old saying refers to the fact that comparing raw times from different horse races – even those run at the same distance – often leads handicappers to erroneous conclusions.
If you’re comparing to 1 1/16th mile races, for example, it would seem logical that you should prefer a horse who crossed the finish line in 1:40.79 over another horse that finished in 1:42.05. But there are many variables that have to be considered before you can confidently put your money behind that conclusion.
For starters, no two racetracks are the same. So if the “faster” horse was skipping over a packed fast track while the latter was running on a deep, tiring track, the latter effort may in fact be superior.
Conditions at a single racetrack also can vary, sometimes over the course of a single card. If the first three races are run over a “fast” track, but a rainstorm dumps on the track before the fourth race, the racing surface could change considerably almost instantly.
Sharp handicappers often use “par times” – averages compiled over extended periods of time — to adjust the raw times of races to compensate for horses coming from different tracks or those that competed over different surface conditions. CynthiaPublishing.com offers annual par times for sale if you don’t want to do the laborious work of compiling your own.