• Form form and the greatest race ever

    POSTED Jun 22, 2012
    I don't know if playing the races was ever not a numbers game, but social media has certainly heightened the general public's awareness of how a number can indicate performance.

    Within hours of Frankel's scintillating win in the Queen Anne, Timeform released a provisional rating of 147, which is the highest it has ever assigned. Some point to the figure as proof that Frankel is "The Best Ever," but Timeform has no rating for Secretariat's Belmont or Spectacular Bid's world record in the Strub--both of which I have to think would have at least cracked the 140 barrier that no North American race has produced.

    Speaking of the North American Timeform ratings, I tend to think they're deflated. Exhibit "A" is Cigar rated best of all North American horses listed. I don't know which race Cigar earned his 138 in, but I'd be willing to take either Ghostzapper's Woodward or his Breeders' Cup Classic over it, and his Timeform ceiling was 137.  Exhibit "B" is that Ragozin and ThoroGraph figures for foreign horses are routinely slower for European races than our races here. TG's Jerry Brown would attribute this in part to North American medication policies, including the use of Lasix, but overall I do think North America has faster horses than Timeform gives it credit for.

    It's tough if not unfair to compare Spectacular Bid to Frankel with any absoluteness. I'd take Frankel in the Breeders' Cup Mile and Spectacular Bid in the Breeders' Cup Classic. Maybe the San Diego Handicap at 1 1/8 miles on Polytrack is the best test of these two? One thing Spectacular Bid and Frankel do have in common, though, that I really admire from an "all-time great" standpoint is that each was a top-class performer as a two-, three-, and four-year-old.

    Of course there are many ways to rate racehorses and races: speed ratings, performance figures, pace-adjusted speed figures, pace, class, etc. An under appreciated metric is the Brisnet.com Class Rating, which can be found in the Ultimate Past Performances and is a riff on the "who beat who and by how much" system that made Performance Rates popular.

    On a micro level, the Brisnet.com Class Rating is a powerful handicapping tool. I trust it to compartmentalize the class in each race and separate contenders from non contenders. The numbers fit in a tight group (90 for bottom level claimers through 125 for top stakes performers), so small differences mean a lot. E.g., a horse capable of a 120 Class Rating is far superior to one who tops out at 117.

    On a macro level, the Brisnet.com Class Rating can help distinguish between all-time greats. 125 is a superlative figure, and only one horse in the history of the rating has cracked 130: Workforce when winning the 2010 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.

    Frankel's best number is127, which he earned in the Sussex Stakes when defeating multiple Group 1 winner Canford Cliffs by five lengths. Sea The Stars also topped off at 127 for his Coral Eclipse Stakes victory, and he had three other efforts of 125+.

    Ghostzapper is the only horse to appear in the top 19 twice, which he achieved in the aforementioned Woodward (over eventual Horse of the Year Saint Liam) and Breeders' Cup Classic (over Horse of the Year Azeri, defending Classic winner Pleasantly Perfect, eventual Dubai World Cup winner Roses In May, Belmont-Travers winner Birdstone, and multiple Grade 1 winner Funny Cide in stakes record time).Cigar's best was a 126, which he earned in the 1995 Jockey Club Gold Cup, but his five ratings of 125+ is certainly impressive.

    And what of those fabulous females in recent years? Zenyatta notched a 126 in both her Breeders' Cup Classic efforts plus a 125 in her Ladies' Classic. Rachel Alexandra hit the 127 mark twice: the Mother Goose and the Haskell as well as 126 in the Kentucky Oaks and 125 in the Fleur de Lis. Havre de Grace peaked at 125 in both the Woodward and Beldame. Blind Luck never topped 123, but she maintained that pleateau seven times. Royal Delta's recent win earned a 125, which is a career best for the champion.

    I typically use Class Ratings to assess individual performance, but given the historic perspective of this post, it's impossible to ignore the corker that was the 2003 Breeders' Cup Turf, which featured a dead heat between defending winner High Chaparral and Johar with multiple Group 1 winner Falbrav in third.

    Just as "Greatest Racehorse Ever" can mean different things to different people, "Greatest Race Ever" can too, but there's no doubt that this is the best race I've ever seen live, and I certainly would lobby on its behalf for inclusion on a short list of greatest races ever.


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