02/26/2008 4:16PM

Fountain of Truth


The final time of Sunday's Fountain of Youth will go down in the past performances and the record books as 1:50.07, and there is no reason to believe that isn't within a blink of the truth. Still, it was a tortured and ultimately unsatisfying process that got it to that point.

It was obvious that the Gulfstream teletimer had malfunctioned as soon as the opening quarter-mile of the race was posted as having been run in 25.78 seconds. The entire field was not under a stiff hold; on the contrary, horses were being pushed to gain tactical position. Nothing about the subsequent fractions of the race seemed amiss, but the slow first quarter inflated the posted final time to an unusually slow 1:51.85.

Shortly after the race, DRF reporter Mike Welsch manually retimed the first quarter of the race several times and came up with a far more plausible 24.10. Clearly, something had caused the timer to begin 1.68 seconds earlier than it should have, and it was later found that an outrider's pony 20 feet from the starting gate may have tripped the beam. That premature start explained the slow first quarter, and there was and is no reason to think any other segment of the race is in error. So Welsch substituted the posted 25.78 with the 24.10, used all the other posted splits, and DRF published a final time of 1:50.17.

It could and should have stopped there. Instead, Equibase then manually retimed the entire race and all the fractions off a tape and came up with completely different times that were grossly different from the perfectly good electronically-timed final seven furlongs of the race. In this version, which became the official chart published Sunday evening, the first quarter became a quick 23.56 and, most erroneously, a fourth quarter of 26.10 followed by an incongruously quick final furlong in 12.53, a full second faster than the original.

On Monday, Gulfstream officials understandably wanted to revise that "official" clocking. What they should have done was to retime the opening quarter and used the correct electronic timing of the rest of the race, as Welsch had originally done, but instead they chose to substitute their own manual retiming of the entire race. At least, as the chart above shows, it was pretty close to the electronic times.

So maybe it should be 1:50.17 instead of 1:50.07, but that's the extent of the remaining uncertainty.

Update: Well, maybe not. Randy Moss writes on an NTRA blog:

Gulfstream's newest clockings appear to have been made from finish pole-to-finish pole, as one might expect for a 1 1/8-mile race on a track 1 1/8 miles in circumference. The problem is that Gulfstream's oval isn't exactly 1 1/8 miles, as advertised. When the retooled oval was laid out in 2005 at the time of Gulfstream's massive renovation project, a measuring error was made resulting in the dirt track being slightly longer than 1 1/8 miles in circumference. Thus when 1 1/8-mile races are hand-timed at Gulfstream from finish pole-to- finish pole, the resulting clockings are about .50 seconds too slow. This discrepancy was confirmed Tuesday by Teleview Racing Patrol, which laid out the Gulfstream timing system. Because of the error in circumference, Teleview says timing for 1 1/8 races actually begins at a special timing beam placed 17 feet after the finish pole. (Videotaped replays of the Fountain of Youth show the outrider who triggered the beam positioned next to the outer rail at about that point.) Other distances are timed in a normal fashion, since the position of pole markers around the track compensates for the extra 17 feet. Hettel and his crew undoubtedly hand-timed the Fountain of Youth the way one would expect it to be timed, and I have no doubt that what appeared on their stopwatches was acceptably close to the actual time from finish post-to-finish post. But if you want to compare the Fountain of Youth with the earlier 1 1/8-mile race that day, or any other 1 1/8-mile race during the Gulfstream meeting, or if you want fractional and final clockings that don't represent an additional .50 seconds traveled, you'll need another set of timings that begin at the actual timing beam. So here you go. That's right – yet another set of times.