• Betting Against the ‘Best’

    POSTED Jul 28, 2011
    With the electrifying win by Winter Memories in the Grade II Lake George Stakes at Saratoga and Frankel’s romp in the Group I Sussex Stakes at Goodwood (England) yesterday, I once again heard the predictable awestruck utterances by horserace handicappers and fans.

    According to a number of Facebook and forum posts, the former is now the best turf horse — of any age or sex — in America, while the latter is… well, the best ever. Writing for the online edition of the Daily Mail, Alan Fraser noted that “Muhammad Ali now has a four-legged challenger for the title of The Greatest.”

    “It was as if seconds had handed winning jockey Tom Queally a magnum gun and Richard Hughes, on the vanquished Canford Cliffs, an ice cream,” Fraser said of Frankel, who is now a perfect 7-for-7 in his career.

    Uh, OK.

    Look, I can relate to the thrill of watching great horses do great things — Winter Memories exploded in the stretch after being checked turning for home, while Frankel’s five-length margin of victory in the Sussex was the largest since Brigadier Gerard in 1971 — but is all this hype really warranted? From a fan’s perspective, I say sure, why not? Party like it’s 1999. But bettors beware. Stories of firearms and frozen treats can mean only one of two things: 1) Skimpy prices; or 2) You live in Memphis, Tenn. and you’re not about to see your kids miss out on dessert.

    The reality is Frankel bested three rivals on Wednesday after running unopposed for the majority of the race. In fact, according to British horseracing authority Dan Munn, the opening half-mile was timed in a pedestrian 52.69 seconds. True, much of that journey was uphill, but that still equates to an early speed ration (ESR) in the +20 range, which is about 16 lengths slower than the ESR late-closing Winter Memories recorded in the Lake George.

    Goodwood Racecourse



    What’s more, Frankel’s final time for the one-mile trek was 1:37.45, which is slower than each of the last two runnings of the Sussex. Of course, given such a dawdling pace, this is hardly surprising. However, keep in mind that, for his victory, Frankel was awarded a 142 Timeform (a measurement of a horse’s ability originated by Phil Bull). That ranks fourth in the 63-year history of those storied UK ratings, below only Sea Bird (145), Tudor Minstrel (144) and the aforementioned Brigadier Gerard (144).



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    Is Frankel good? Yes. Is he great? Yeah, probably. Is he the fourth-best horse in British racing history? I don’t know about that — and certainly his performance in the Sussex didn’t sway me one way or the other.

    Likewise, I’m just as cautious in regard to Winter Memories. Obviously, she’s got a ton of talent — her pace figures are outstanding and she showed in the Lake George that she can accelerate on a dime — but the bettors have been hip to that fact since she made her career debut. She’s been favored (often heavily) in every lifetime start and her dominating win on Wednesday isn’t likely to boost her odds anytime soon.



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    Plus, there are other good three-year-old fillies, like Hungry Island (see below), out there — not to mention all of the sophomore males and older horses waiting in the wings.

    Is Winter Memories a really, really good young female turf router? Yes. Is she the best turf router in the country? I sure as heck wouldn’t bet on it.



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