• The ‘Souped-Up’ Racetrack

    POSTED Mar 14, 2014
    John Lydgate once said: “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.”

    Lydgate was a monk and a poet, not a horseplayer. Had he been, I doubt he would have been so optimistic.

    Racing fans, it seems, can’t be pleased at any time.

    Case in point: Game On Dude.

    (Click on image to enlarge)

    Here’s a seven-year-old gelding that does what every racing fan clamors for — he competes. Game On Dude has raced 31 times and averaged over six starts per year since he debuted on Jan. 23, 2010. He has raced at Gulfstream Park, Churchill Downs, Lone Star Park, Belmont Park, Charles Town, Hollywood Park, Del Mar, Santa Anita… he’s even raced at Meydan Racecourse in Dubai.

    The son of Awesome Again has won prestigious races like the Pacific Classic, the Hollywood Gold Cup (twice) and, just a few days ago, he became the first horse in history to win the Santa Anita Handicap three times.

    That’s something John Henry couldn’t do in his three attempts (1981, 1982, 1984); Seabiscuit couldn’t do (1937, 1938, 1940); Cougar II couldn’t do (1971-73).

    (Click on image to enlarge)

    Yet, in the aftermath of Game On Dude’s magnificent triumph, all I heard about was the “souped-up” racetrack at Santa Anita — a track that many believe aided Game On Dude in his stakes-record clocking of 1:58.17 for 1 ¼ miles.

    OK, the track was very fast at Santa Anita on March 8, 2014… so what?

    Souped-up racetracks have been a part of the game since time immemorial. In fact, the best performance in the history of American racing (at least in my opinion) came over an ultra-glib racing surface.

    Secretariat may have moved like a “tremendous machine” in winning the Belmont Stakes on June 9, 1973, but there is little doubt that the track — and probably, more specifically, the wind — played a major role in his record-shattering 12-furlong time of 2:24 that day.

    Using inflation-adjusted purse values as a guide, it’s arguable that the quality of racing on the dirt was actually a bit better on the day that Game On Dude notched his third Big ‘Cap than on the day that Secretariat became a Triple Crown champion. But look closely at the pace figures (my ESRs and LSRs). Notice how, on June 9, 1973, every single dirt race had a positive pace profile (higher LSR than ESR).

    This is highly unusual and generally only seen in higher class races or at tracks with configuration or timing quirks. In fact, at Santa Anita, only two races featured positive profiles and both were graded stakes — the Grade II San Felipe and the Grade I Santa Anita Handicap.

    (Click on image to enlarge)

    What’s more, the times were fairly similar on June 9, 1973 and March 8, 2014 too.

    Using the old Daily Racing Form track variant method, but including all races to give us a larger sample, we find that the averages for Belmont and Santa Anita are nearly identical — 6.2 and 7.1 respectively. (For those who are unfamiliar with the old DRF track variants, these numbers represent fifths of a second off the track record and were generally maintained for both sprint and route affairs.)

    So where’s the uproar over Big Red’s Belmont time? Where’s the angst over his scintillating performance?

    Look, I get it: Game On Dude is not Secretariat… but he’s not exactly Zippy Chippy either. Is too much to ask for some of the racing fans out there to be happy some of the time and give credit to a horse that has accomplished something historic?

    Early Speed Ration (ESR): A measurement of a horse’s early energy expenditure in relation to the total race requirements. The lower the figure, the greater the horse’s early exertion in that event.

    -15= Demanding.
    -10= Brisk.
      -5= Moderate.
       0= Soft.

    Late Speed Ration (LSR): A measurement of a horse’s late energy expenditure in relation to the total race requirements. The higher the figure, the greater the horse’s late exertion in that event. Because late speed is calculated at a time when a horse is being asked for his/her maximum effort, LSRs can be a great indication of form as well.

       0= Excellent.
      -5= Good.
    -10= Fair.
    -15= Poor.

    Pace Profile: A simple comparison between a horse’s LSR and the ESR of the race in which it was earned. Positive profiles are greatly desired.

    Note: ESRs and LSRs recorded on turf or all-weather surfaces tend to vary by 5-10 points from those garnered on dirt tracks.

    Alfredo said...

    Well done Derek!

    Really those that don't want to give him credit many times are just looking for excuse for their losing tickets. I didn't have Game On Dude but respect the hell out of him for a great performance. All the horses ran over the same track.

    Horses are hard to figure. Thanks for putting a tiny hole in Secretariat's Belmont balloon. Big Red was fantastic but he certainly was far from invincible.

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