06/20/2008 12:46AM

Fun With Penetrometers


Ever wonder just how "yielding" a turf course really was, especially when the time of the race was fast? American grass courses are rated pretty crudely and sometimes arbitrarily, with a track superintendent making a ballpark guess based on a look at the course and a guess at how hard it rained last night. Other countries try harder, it seems, based on this news release from New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing Inc.:

A new system of grading track conditions is about to go on trial in New Zealand. The new system will run from mid June to the end of September and if supported by the Industry will remain in place from that date.

New Zealand currently employs five track grades ranging from Fast to Heavy. Each of these grades is aligned to a band of penetrometer readings – for example Good going is the result of an average penetrometer reading of 2.1 to 2.5 inclusive. The penetrometer number is an average of 30 readings from around the track. Currently this average reading is also released when the track rating is declared.
When soil conditions change between the time readings are taken and when races are run, Punters, Trainers and Riders can be incorrectly placing too much emphasis on a precise penetrometer number. The very wide bands of the present track condition grades make it difficult to indicate where a track is likely to shift to given weather conditions at the time readings are taken. Narrower bands would help racecourse managers give Punters, Trainers and Riders a better perception of the track condition.

New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing (NZTR) has developed the new 11-scale system, which has been endorsed by Club and Industry representatives and Turftech (the original developers of the Penetrometer system):

Scale/Rating/Penetrometer Band/Comment
1/Fast/0.5 – 1.9/A dry hard track
2/Good/2.0 – 2.2/A firm track
3/Good/2.3 – 2.5/Ideal track with some give
4/Dead/2.6 – 2.8/Track with give better side of Genuine Dead
5/Dead/2.9 – 3.2/Genuine Dead
6/Dead/3.3 – 3.5/Significant amount of give, worse side of Genuine Dead
7/Slow/3.6 – 3.8/A mildly rain affected track, better side of Genuine Slow
8/Slow/3.9 – 4.2/Genuine Slow
9/Slow/4.3 – 4.5/Rain affected, worse side of Genuine Slow
10/Heavy/4.6 – 5.5/Genuine Heavy
11/Heavy/5.6+/Very soft and wet, heaviest category

This new rating scale aims to more accurately reflect the track rating and provide more consistency. Each step in the scale is either a 0.4 or 0.3 spread of penetrometer readings. Turftech advised NZTR that there is no reason for the penetrometer bands to be exactly the same width for each rating category. As such, the spread for ‘Genuine Dead’ and ‘Genuine 2 Slow’ categories is 0.4 as against 0.3 for all other categories except ‘Fast’ which has always been an anomaly as the first category.

By adopting a different bandwidth for ‘Genuine Dead’ and ‘Genuine Slow’ it retains the cut off point for ‘Good’ at 2.5, ‘Dead’ at 3.5 and ‘Slow’ at 4.5, which is what Punters are accustomed to. The consequence of bringing these three ratings into the mix and the need to have two heavy categories means that the New Zealand scale will have 11 categories rather than the 10 used in Australia. Under this new scale the actual Penetrometer number will not be released, only the rating category and associated scale – for example ‘Dead 6.’

The description will also be published to help with the understanding of the new track rating scale, for example ‘Dead 6: Significant amount of give, worse side of Genuine Dead.’ During the trial period a horse’s form sheet will continue to reflect its performance on the five scales – Fast, Good, Dead, Slow and Heavy tracks - not be broken down to the 11-scale system. These proposed rating categories would not only more accurately reflect the track rating in New Zealand but also provide both Australian and New Zealand wagering customers a better indication of the predicted track conditions.

In all cases once the first race is run the time of the races becomes the key determinant of the track condition on the day.

That final sentence is almost the most remarkable one. Only once in a blue moon is an American grass course upgraded when it's clear from the times of the races that the initial guess was a bad one.

--As for Thursday's Congressional hearing:
*Column here: Download Column061908.doc
*Webcast archive and prepared statements: Click here

jcp More than 1 year ago
I don't follow the Canadian racing too much, but FIVE maidens in a Million Dollar race?
david More than 1 year ago
after the death of a top drag racer in a crash yesterday, i was wondering how long before congress looks into safety issues in that sport !!!!!!!
chisox More than 1 year ago
bochalls, I just watched the Bel 8th from Thursday. I think Sky Dragon was unlucky not to get 3rd. It looked like Garcia had nowhere to go in the shadow of the wire as he was running up on the horse directly in front of him but I wouldn't blame the ride.
RocEnite More than 1 year ago
Unitas Have to agree with you about kent D and his ride in the belmont.My girlfriend and I stayed home and watched the whole day on espn and than nbc.Even my girl said kent looked liked he was going to the electric chair instead of riding bb in the belmont. also bb going to the haskell is ok with me.I think curlin went that route last year.So who cares if bb is running in the haskell. My girlfriend the only reason she watched the belmont was because of bb,she did not know or even care about bb connections or dutrows checkerd past.She wanted to see a triple crown winner.She was rooting for the horse and a chance to watch history.Point I am trying to make is bb did cause some people who know nothing about racing to watch.bb made her a fan for one day and she wants to see bb run in the haskel,which is great (now i have to drag her with me to the otb that day.lol)for horse racing (new fans).After the belmont she even called kent a pinhead watching the replay of his ride.I am kind of glad bb made a run at the TC for one day i could actually share my passion for horses with her.
Hammer More than 1 year ago
I just realized it is my 51st birthday today. But I'm more scared of sharing a birthday with flipper than I am about getting older. Off to Arlington to win some money
Arcstats More than 1 year ago
Steve, regarding your column reviewing yesterday's congressional hearing on racing yesterday...[there were] several statements made that should send chills down every bettor's spine. For those who did not see or hear the testimony, fasten your seat belts.... Arthur Hancock stated that he told his veterinarian at Keeneland that he did not want to use any medications on his horses unless they were sick. The vet proceeded to tell Arthur that if he wanted to win races, he (the vet) needed to administer the various drugs everyone else was using in order for his stable to compete. Folks we're not talking about Charlestown here, this occured at Keeneland. Jack Van Berg explained how the veterinarians are now doing more training than the trainers today. To paraphrase - "If a young or unknown trainer with nothing to lose hooks up with a young veterinarian, the next you you know he's the leading trainer. You see the vet watching the horse jog, then once back at the barn, he has his tray out and is administering the horse whatever". Arthur Hancock and Jack Van Berg are not newbies in this industry. I have a hard time believing they would make statements like these for personal gain or ego satisfaction, especially in front of the Feds. I beleieve these individuals, and the printed past performances and trainer statistics seem to quantify these statements. Until veterinarians are listed on the PP's, or all medications are banned, I am open to any suggestions as to how to effectively handicap and confidently make a wager in this game under these conditions. And please don't tell me "ignore this side of racing and proceed with normal handicapping principals" because I don't breathe very well through sand.
C More than 1 year ago
Steve, I too find the last sentence remarkable, but perhaps for different reasons: -How do final times scale with track condition? -With 11 possible grades, how finely do the final times have to be broken up? -Don't we first need an idea of the expected range of final times for a particular horse running on '1' versus '11'? -Is this scale even linear, or is there a point where the turf becomes firm/soft enough that there will be no real difference in the final times between '1' and '3' or '8' and '11'? -How much of a difference in final times would cause a leap from '3' to '4', for example? -Is any of this even reasonable for tracks outside North America, where "time only matters in prision", the paces are usually crawling, and the real running only begins about 200 yards out? I understand what they're trying to accomplish with this, but it seems that using the card's final times (a) defeats the whole purpose because it transforms the idea of a "track condition" into a "track variant", and (b) could make the grading LESS precise by opening up a can of worms that's completely inappropriate for that part of the world. Any kind of calculation for a variant (which is basically what this becomes) involves circular reasoning: did the horses run their times because the variant was 'x', or was the variant calculated as 'x' based on those times?
AndyScoggin More than 1 year ago
Happy Birthday, Flipper! How about posting your pick 4 selections more often, you're way better than the TVG guys!
florida Larry More than 1 year ago
Steve In the past, have you ever personally done any detailed post turf race analysis based on Beyers and the individual performances? If so, did it give you any indicators for future handicapping? Florida L
bochalls More than 1 year ago
Anyone else upset with Garcia's Finish on Sky Dragon in R8 at Bel on Thurs? Seemed he had horse in deep stretch but wasn't riding...maybe he woulda gotten pinched and the hole wasn't there, but if he persists I think he beats Couturier for 3rd and I get a nice Tri. I like Garcia but think he let me down in this spot....anyone?