• Is Wise Dan Doomed to Breeders’ Cup Defeat?

    POSTED Oct 11, 2013
    It’s no secret that I love statistics and numbers.

    To me, they provide the one reliable barometer of what is (or may be) true and what is (or may be) false in an increasingly complex world. For example: Throughout his cycling career, Lance Armstrong vehemently denied taking performance-enhancing drugs.

    Yet, the numbers told a different story:

    * Nearly half (42.9 percent) of all the winners of the Tour de France, the race that made Armstrong famous, have been under the age of 28. 

    * Prior to his 28th birthday, Armstrong had won exactly two stages of the Tour.

    * From the age of 28 to 34 — and after battling cancer — Armstrong won 20 stages, including the Tour de France itself seven times.

    While none of this proved that Armstrong was receiving a chemical boost, the numbers certainly qualified as things that make you go hmmm.

    So, given my love of digits, it should come as no surprise that I am crunching the numbers for the upcoming Breeders’ Cup races. In fact, next week, I will be offering my annual Breeders’ Cup Betting Guide through Brisnet.com.

    Well, on Tuesday, shortly before my vision blurred from staring at my computer screen and I announced to my family that I was 72.8 percent “hungry for chicken” when the subject of what to eat for dinner was broached, I unearthed a startling statistic — one that directly relates to Wise Dan’s chances of repeating in the BC Mile (should that be his target).

    I found that winning on the green — at least in the Breeders’ Cup — practically demands that horse’s final prep was contested over the weeds as well. Since 1997, only two horses (from 69) have been triumphant on the turf after prepping on a non-grass surface last time.

    And it makes very little difference whether that prep was on conventional dirt or on a synthetic surface, as the following stats illustrate:

    Attempts: 23
    Winners (Rate): 1 (4.3%)
    Return: $21.60
    Net (ROI):  $0.94 (-53.04%)


    Attempts: 46
    Winners (Rate): 1 (2.2%)
    Return: $14.20
    Net (ROI):  $0.31 (-84.57%)

    If you think these sorry statistics don’t apply to Wise Dan, whose last race was taken off the turf due to wet weather, think again: Horses that didn’t race on turf last time, but did so in their previous race, are a nearly-as-dismal 2-for-29, with a -38.3 percent ROI. And here’s the interesting part: both winners were the same — Tapitsfly and Stephanie’s Kitten — and both won the BC Juvenile Fillies Turf (Tapitsfly in 2009 and Stephanie’s Kitten in 2011).

    Now, I have a theory as to why it is so difficult to change track surfaces in the Breeders’ Cup and why only two lightly-raced fillies have pulled it off. It relates to energy expenditure, which I have attempted measure with my speed rations (for a thoroughly inadequate explanation of what speed rations are, click HERE).

    Simply put, certain types of races and surfaces require certain types of energy distribution — and horses are creatures of habit. The BC Juvenile, for example, stresses early speed; hence, it’s hardly shocking that the last three winners of that event were never worse than third at any call. Heck, even when the “Juvie” was contested over Santa Anita’s Pro-Ride surface, which greatly favored late speed, a frontrunner managed to win one year (Midshipman in 2008).

    Given this, it is highly desirable that a horse have shown the kind of figures needed to win the race in question. The general profile for turf routes is slow early, fast late; both dirt and faux dirt (depending on the type — and they do vary) require more early output. As a result, horses switching to turf often expend too much energy early and are left gasping in the stretch.

    This, however, was not the case when Stephanie’s Kitten used the Alcibiades as a springboard to her win in the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf.

    (For a key to all the past performances below, click HERE.)

    (Click on image to enlarge)

    Notice that her speed rations in that race, over Keeneland’s Polytrack, were exactly the same as her speed rations in the Natalma, which was contested over the green at Woodbine.

    Compare those digits to the ones earned by Wise Dan and I think you’ll see what I’m driving at:
    (Click on image to enlarge)

    Note that Wise Dan went about four lengths faster early (-4 early speed ration) and eight lengths slower late (-9 late speed ration) on the Poly than he did in his previous race, which was also on the turf at Woodbine and featured a 0 ESR and -1 LSR. 

    Wise Dan fans, we’ve got a problem… perhaps. In fairness, Tapitsfly showed a similar disconnect between her dirt and turf figures. The difference is — or, more correctly, might be — the early splits in the 2009 BC Juvenile Fillies Turf were very slow (-1 ESR). Hence, Tapitsfly’s sharpened early speed undoubtedly helped her stay within hailing distance of pacesetter Rose Catherine, who ran very gamely to finish second.

    (Click on image to enlarge)

    Whether that will be the case with Wise Dan remains to be seen. But one thing is sure — and, once again, it regards numbers — Tapitsfly was 9-1; Wise Dan will surely be less than that.
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