01/18/2008 12:45PM

Q&A 1/18/08


steve_t says: Now I know how Christopher Columbus felt when he broached the idea that the world was round, or Galileo who was almost executed for suggesting that the Earth orbits the Sun.

Now now, steve t, even the flat-earthers over here in the red box thoroughly welcome your interesting and well-documented observations, and you're always welcome back again to this locality to have a heaping helping of our hospitality.

I'm in complete agreement with you that there seems to be a narrower range of final times on at least some some synthetic surfaces. Where we part company is when this observation gets conflated into a case that the Beyer Speed Figures are constructed with a deliberate bias against California horses.

The idea that a divergence began in 2005, a full year before the installation of any synthetic surfaces in California, makes no sense to me. And I don't think we have enough data on the Cushion surfaces at Santa Anita and Hollywood to know whether a possible decline in 100+ figures at those two tracks over the last six months reflects the quality of the very best main-track horses or the subtleties of the surfaces.

But there's no question that at Del Mar and Keeneland, where Polytrack was installed, running times appeared to be compressed into a smaller band, which has the effect of raising the floor and lowering the ceiling. Rather than saying this renders conventional final-time speed figures inaccurate, much less biased or sinister, I would say that this is a perfectly natural outcome of a style of racing where horses go slower earlier and finish closer together. We can see this in the closeness of individual races, where average winning margins and first-to-last gaps are much smaller in slowly-run Polytrack races.

As Wayne C. noted, we've all been through this before with a little something called grass racing. The exact same phenomenon occurs on turf. There simply isn't as much variation at the finish of a race when everyone's running their first quarters in 24 or 25 seconds instead of 22 and 23. Year after year, the best dirt horses in the country run Beyers of 115 to 125, while grass champions' best races tend to be in the 105 to 110 range. That doesn't mean the figures are wrong or broken, only that different styles of racing yield different ranges of final-time-based speed figures.

(By the way, the illustration above is the 1857 painting "Galileo facing the Roman Inquistion" by Cristiano Banti.)

dick_w says: I am curious to see the BSF they assign to Commentator for his mile in 1:33:71 at Gulfstream today (on dirt). and brian_mclean says: Commentator’s track record performance looked like the real deal. I saw a few 1.38’s yesterday. The 14 length margin and 24.1 final quarter were impressive.

Commentator received a Beyer Speed Figure of 119 for his sensational effort at Gulfstream Thursday. He has performed at that lofty level before, having earned back-to-back Beyers of 123 and 121 in 2005 for a 16 1/2-length allowance victory and his memorable triumph over Saint Liam in the G1 Whitney.

The figure was straightforward and unambiguous. There were four one-mile dirt races at Gulfstream Thursday:

Race 2: 1:37.06 (3yo starter allowance for $25k types))
Race 3: 1:37.98 (older male Starter allowance, $10k level)
Race 5: 1:38.47 (older male $12k N2L claimers)
Race 8: 1:33.71 (Commentator)

The New York-bred gelding may be the fastest horse of this decade this side of Ghostzapper. The problem has been keeping him sound. Also, as is often the case, his gigantic figures have come in races where he has had everything his own way, setting comfortable paces while loose on the lead. To date, he has been unable to replicate those performances when challenged early through fast fractions.

art_detoro says: Where was the NTRA when account wagering started to flourish? What an opportunity they had to represent the entire industry. Why didn’t they contract an account wagering developer to establish a national account wagering system that included all products?

The NTRA was in fact trying to do exactly what you suggest, casting its lot with TVG in an attempt to make that the national racing channel and in-home wagering hub. The NTRA's very first business plan back in 1998 projected huge annual revenues from exactly such a national system. The idea ultimately failed for two reasons. First, the Magna-owned tracks never fully bought into the idea, leaving TVG short of the necessary critical mass of product that would have discouraged competitors. Second, the technology for in-home wagering quickly became much simpler and more affordable, and track operators realized they could implement such systems themselves without paying a middleman. What we're seeing now in the marketplace is an attempt by the tracks to take back ownership and control of in-home wagering from third parties. It's going to be a long and painful process and the loser, as usual, is the inconvenienced customer.

greg says: How does Indian Blessing's figure stack up to her other career sprints back east? I remember horses like Borego and Taste of Paradise running career numbers in prestigious grade 1 races at Belmont only to never duplicate them again.

Indian Blessing received a BSF of 91 for her victory in last Sunday's Santa Ynez. Her previous figs were a 97 winning her debut going 5 1/2 furlongs at Saratoga; an 87 winning the Frizette at Belmont and a 95 in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies at Monmouth. The 91 is exactly what the race earned and deserves and makes intuitive sense. Unlike her loose and unchallenged victories at Saratoga and Monmouth, she was pressed through the opening quarter last Sunday, had to expend additional energy to draw clear through a second quarter run in a sizzling 21.49, and was clearly tiring late as she gave back all but a head of a three-length lead through the final furlong.

Borrego and Taste of Paradise are horses who I believe flourished at Belmont because their running styles were better suited to the closer-friendly big turns and sandier surface. But just for the record, in 2005 (presumably pre-"divergence,") Borrego ran a 107 finishing second to Lava Man in the Hollywood Gold Cup, a 113 winning the Pacific Classic at Del Mar and a 110 winning the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont.

bill_t says: Now that you have displayed the bazooka joe comic, do you remember the racing comic strip?

Are you talking about the long-running "Andy Capp" (Cockney pronunciation of "handicap") strip or was there a Bazooka Joe about racing? If the latter, please send it along if you have it and I'll post it.