Dumb question: “suicidal” pace

I will preface this by saying I have not done any homework to actually try to come up with a solid rationale but figure there are knowledgeable folks here to help.

During the KY derby race, I recall the announcer saying that the horses were moving at a “suicidal” pace. To an ordinary person like me, they were moving at the speed that they needed to in order to win but using the term “suicidal” gave me pause to think it was not that straightforward.

My question is: has the speed of racing at that level increased that much due to a certain level of competition or was it just a statement made in jest to create drama? If the pace has increased, I’m curious as to everyone’s insightful and constructive thoughts on the future of racing and the ‘pushing of the pace.’ Or am I just totally missing the meaning of “suicidal” pace? :roll_eyes:

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Drama lama announcer.


Got it. Thanks!

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Not really…
The 2022 KD had the fast first 1/4 mile split ever & the 4th fastest 1/2 mile split.


It is not all just drama…even though callers can use colorful terminology.

Usually a “suicidal pace” in a race means that the leaders are setting very fast fractions… and may be more likely to burn out/tire, fall back and set the race up for horses who will come from behind and pass them. It has little to do with “the future of racing” and is just racing strategy that also depends on the length of a race and the abilities of the horses involved…



As @smoofox explained very well above, just colorful terminology for going too fast too soon, and damaging one’s own chances.

Probably a poor choice of words in light of the seriousness of actual suicide. The other phrase that I don’t care for, but is used a lot, and we will hear it as the Preakness approaches, is “new shooters” for horses that did not run in the Derby, but will in the Preakness.


The terminology is certainly off color but all it means is that by starting a race at such a high rate of speed the horses will use themselves up and “kill” their own chances of winning.

In all but the very shortest sprints, a horse’s speed is rationed throughout a race. A horse would never be expected to run flat out for the 1 1/4 mile distance of the Derby.


“Good” racehorses tend to keep up the 24 second quarter mile fractions… long enough be in front at the end of the race. “Speed” horses may go closer to 22 seconds for the first few quarter mile fractions, but it is unlikely that they can keep that up long term, longer than sprinting distances. Horses running in “sprint” races will tend to post faster early quarter mile fractions than horses going a longer distance. In this KD, the early fractions were far too fast- they are posted at the top of the TV screen as they come up. One would expect those horses to slow down as they get tired, used up early. They did. The winner probably clocked close to 24 second quarters the whole way through the race, an even pace. So it looks like he is running faster at the end, but actually, everyone else is slowing down and he’s just running the same pace, but effectively passing the tiring horses that were in front early to get the win. When horses run too fast early going 1 1/4 miles, they are usually going to slow down near the end. A great opportunity for a late closer to catch them. And this guy didn’t look tired, as he attacked that lead pony, not winded at all. Could mean that he can keep going at that steady pace for longer. Perhaps we will see soon if this is the case.


Thanks all for the thorough explanations. Makes total and absolute sense. :slight_smile:

A movie that talks about what can happen with horses going out too fast, too soon and is based on a true story is Secretariat.

After that you can google the real races and documentaries.