08/26/2009 12:57PM

Checking the mailbag


Thanks for the responses/questions during the two weeks since this blog was launched. I'll actually try to answer some of them now, and maybe get to some of the others later.

From Kevin Sullivan:

I remember the Derby, the only one without pace figs, or at least one of very few, was Mine That Bird. I don't know if you ever calculated that race (Sunland Derby) but pro figures that I have seen show an extremely high pace, something that might have helped find the Bird.

The Sunland Derby indeed had much higher-than-par pacefigs, and the change in Mine That Bird's running style in the Derby seemed to be instrumental in his upset. Unfortunately Sunland Park wasn't on our list of pace-figure tracks at that time. Now it is.

From Saratoga_Mike:

Are variant adjustments for the Moss Pace Figures based on Beyer variants for any given race?

From Bruce Friday:

Wouldn't it be more "correct" to use variants determined from fractional times than to use (Beyer) variants determined from final times?

From ron:

Why did you truncate (the Moss Pace Figures) so much and why did you create a new scale and not center them around the Beyer final time figs?

I’ll try to make this a three-in-one response.

My pace figures are indeed derived directly from the Beyer Speed Figure daily variants. In fact, within the DRF computer system the pacefigs are actually calculated using Beyer-scale parallel-time and lengths-beaten charts and then converted to the Moss Pace Figure scale as a final step.

In fact, originally they were to be called Beyer Pace Figures.  I’ve been an associate of Andy’s in the making of Beyer Speed Figures for at least 25 years now, and Andy and I both worked extensively on the pace figures in their infancy. But in maintaining the integrity of the Beyer parallel time chart - which is essential in comparing pacefigs to final figs - the value of one-fifth second at, say, a quarter-mile turned out to be so great that many route and synthetic pacefigs sank into well the negative numbers. We decided those negative numbers would look too confusing in print, so the scale was truncated into its present form. Andy chose to bow out of the pacefig business rather than develop figures on an entirely new scale, but he remains an ardent supporter of the process.

Some makers of pace figures do make separate variants based on fractional times. About half the time, that isn’t necessary for mine. The parallel time chart combined with adjustments based on fractional-time tendencies of each individual track and distance will do the trick, as long as the variant doesn’t deviate too much from the norm for that track. But if a surface becomes abnormally faster or slower than it typically is, my pacefigs are tweaked accordingly. For example, if a variant is based on final times and the surface becomes much deeper and more tiring than usual, pacefigs will be too high and should be adjusted downward. The reverse is true when track surfaces become much faster and thus less tiring than usual.

From Aaron Shapiro:

Wouldn't it be helpful to show the turnback figure of horses going back in distance? For instance if today's race is 6f and the horse ran a mile in his last race, it would be a positive to know is 6f speed figure is say 87. If the rest of the horses in the race were slower this could be an advantage.

Although we don’t call it a “turnback figure” per se, the six-furlong pacefig in route races does exactly as you describe. If a horse turning back from a route to sprint has a higher six-furlong pacefig than the final figs of its competition, it can be a good play. Flashing in the Test Stakes was a perfect example (see earlier post).

From aparagon4u:

Any chance you'll do pacefigs for turf sprints in the future?

That’s possible but not imminent. One major problem with turf pacefigs is that fractional times can change wildly when the inner rail is moved in and out to protect the grass. This year Equibase began incorporating the position of the rail in its databases, but right now the sample size available for Gulfstream Park turf sprints with the rail 20 feet out is just not large enough to feel confident in the quality of the numbers.

From mike:

Do you have a calculation for wind or is that a very subjective matter? I've never been able to come to an exact conclusion on the effect of wind on a thoroughbred and have usually gone the subjective route depending on a tailwind, headwind, or crosswind.

Until thoroughbred tracks install devices to measure wind direction/velocity and place them at proper heights and intervals around the track, attempts to precisely quantify the effect of wind is futile. And I would expect that to happen at about the same time the sun turns brown.

When I began calculating Moss Pace Figures, I initially noted the direction of the wind for each race at those tracks where I could actually see flagpoles on video replays. When I couldn’t see flagpoles at Gulfstream Park, I used The Weather Channel’s website to note wind speed and direction at hourly intervals, and looked at Google Earth to determine the position of Gulfstream’s oval relative to north-south.

As I tried to determine why a robust wind sometimes didn’t effect pacefigs at all at a particular track, I came to a realization: it really is all about deviation from norm. Suppose a typical raceday at Hurricane Downs has a 25 mph headwind down the backstretch. When the DRF database provides me with fractional and final times for every 6 furlong race run at Hurricane Downs, the early fractions are going to be abnormally slow and the final quarter-mile abnormally fast. And this will become part of the pacefig adjustment for Hurricane Downs built into the calculations. In other words, a 25 mph headwind has already been incorporated into the numbers. The concern then becomes those days with no wind at all!

To the surprise of no one but me, it turned out I was spending too much time hoping to nail down something so subjective.

Now, if I notice pacefigs for a given day are suspiciously high or low, I still might look at video or the internet for verification before adjusting them. But I understand that it’s mostly a guess - hopefully an educated guess - as to how much effect the wind actually had.