11/25/2009 6:35PM

Slower figures for Zenyatta?


    I’m not weighing in on the Horse of the Year debate - yet. But allow me to offer this opinion: those who use Beyer Speed Figures as the primary gauge of Zenyatta’s talents are barking up the wrong tree.

    The effect of pace on Zenyatta’s figures, which is intertwined with the synthetic surfaces she primarily ran over, makes them useless in comparing her talent level to Rachel Alexandra's.

     Anyone who has computed speed or pace figs can testify that races with a fast pace are more likely to earn a higher final number. A one-mile race with a six-furlong fraction of 1:10 can fall apart in the final quarter-mile and end up with a final time of 1:37. But the same horses traveling in 1:15 would need a world-class finish to stop the clock at 1:38. In a nutshell, that describes the figure differences between Rachel and Zenyatta.

     Many of Zenyatta’s races were so hopelessly slow-paced, she couldn’t possibly have matched Rachel Alexandra’s dirt figures. And those paces were actually slower than many realize; synthetic tracks are typically faster than dirt tracks, thus a half-mile fraction of :49 at Santa Anita is more like :50 at Churchill Downs. Because synthetic surfaces are more kind to come-from-behinders, Mike Smith permitted Zenyatta to lag far behind those crawling paces. And Smith’s confidence in her superiority led him to usually take her six- to seven-wide, avoiding traffic but slowing her figures more. It is a testament to Zenyatta’s ability she ran the numbers she did.

     Could pace possibly make that much difference in final numbers? Absolutely.

     Zenyatta's half-mile pace figure in the 1 1/16-mile Lady's Secret was approximately 27 lengths slower than Rachel Alexandra's half-mile figure from the 1 1/8-mile Woodward. Think that might have impacted Zenyatta's final fig?

     Also, look at Life is Sweet, who employed a similar but somewhat less-dramatic running style as her stablemate Zenyatta, always finishing behind her, as did everyone else. When Careless Jewel was a runaway on the front end in Friday’s Breeders‘ Cup Ladies Classic, a synthetic stakes suddenly had a dirt-style pace scenario, and Life is Sweet’s Beyer Speed Figure leaped to a career-high 107.

     In the Classic, Zenyatta saw a more moderate pace than that, but it was Dr. Fager-like compared to what she was accustomed to. Her final figure was a 112, much more in line with what we might expect from, say, Rachel Alexandra.

     This doesn’t mean Zenyatta is better than Rachel Alexandra, or more deserving of Horse of the Year, just that speed handicappers should adjust their thinking this time around.

     In handicapping, speed figures are indeed the way, the truth and the light. But sometimes you need to know when to pull another club out of the bag.

afleetalexforever More than 1 year ago
John said " I've never seen a closer like Zenyatta win all of her races, no matter what the traffic was or what the pace was. Never." Ever heard of Personal Ensign.
cowboy More than 1 year ago
people are saying RA did not show up for the classic. i believe zenyatta was scratched at churchill because of the sloppy track.buts that ok?RA traveled. zen did not how many of the other horses in the classic did not like the syn. track.horses should run on dirt. they been doing it since horses came on this earth.
arliss More than 1 year ago
People who continually spit out the Rachel Al;exandra superhorse garbage know nothing about racing. This horse beat nothing in her campaign, and almost fell down at the wire in the Preakness against Mine That Bird, the same M ine That Bird who could not even smell Zenyatta's rear end in the BC Classic. Comparing those two horses is simply a miler against a classic winner. Zenyatta would eat Rachel Alexandra for lunch, and I'm sorry you idiots can't understand the truth.
John More than 1 year ago
Thanks, Randy. You're right on all counts. To the person who said "Does anyone seriously think Zenyatta could have made up 10 or 12 lengths in a race like that?", she did just that in the Classic. Rachel is a special horse and I rooted for her in all of her races. However, her connections know that she can't handle a mile and a quarter, synthetic or dirt. I've never seen a closer like Zenyatta win all of her races, no matter what the traffic was or what the pace was. Never. She beat the world's best, not just also-rans at a mile and one eighth. She rates right up there with Secretariat. Did anybody see the time on that tiring synthetic track? 2:00 and change. She's Horse of the Year.
James Haughey More than 1 year ago
I could'nt agree more with you in regard to speed and pace figs. But what I find intriguing is the funereal pace of most route races, and some longer sprints as well, when compared to their counterparts in years gone by. Could it be that this anomaly is accountable to horses having less stamina than in earlier years? And could the answer, at least in part be the result of the buying up of top grade stock by the Arabs, and possibly the Japanese as well in the mid-to-late 1980s?
racingkid More than 1 year ago
randy, can you add a "print this page ikon" to your blog so we can print off your blogs that interest us - steven crist has this print ikon on his blog - thankyou for the information.
Rob More than 1 year ago
Outstanding post Mr. Moss. Ragozin and Thorograph guys all year were discounting this in comparing the two champions. That being said, Rachel Alexandra had the greatest filly campaign in history.
Super D More than 1 year ago
Randy, I think cappers should revisit the book 'Beyer on Speed' because that's where I think you are going in this valid argument. In spite of certain numbers, grab a different club. Well put.
Jack N More than 1 year ago
Seems to have been a bad year for Beyers in general, starting with the 80 that Mine That Bird received for the Sunland derby. By the way Randy, I really like your work with Jerry Bailey on ESPN. I hope that the powers-that-be keep you two together forever. You guys are the best.
ljk More than 1 year ago
Am I the only one who has trouble imagining Zenyatta making up 27 lengths on Rachel? Or imagine the two in a race with a pace like the Ky. Oaks where Rachel went 6f in about 1:11 4/5. Does anyone seriously think Zenyatta could have made up 10 or 12 lengths in a race like that?
Roy H More than 1 year ago
Very good article. If the pace in the BC Classic had been 2 seconds faster, Zenyatta might have run a 130 Beyer.
Tinky More than 1 year ago
"In handicapping, speed figures are indeed the way, the truth and the light." Really? So discerning the "fastest" horse in a given race is all that is necessary to succeed? I expect that you didn't mean to imply that, but you did. Your central point is an important one, but, ironically, it also underscores why Zenyatta was not as good as Rachel Alexandra. By that I mean that the former's running style made her vulnerable to either a slow pace, and/or a good horse with better tactical speed. And the fact that she retired unbeaten is not in any way inconsistent with that. So, even if you care to adjust Zenyatta's speed figures in an effort to show that she was somehow as "fast" as RA, that would not, in and of itself, prove that she was as good, let alone better than her.
Tony V More than 1 year ago
Can u explain how you do your speed figs? THanks
Medlocke More than 1 year ago
Randy, I absolutely agree. Really, what good are those speed figures if the horse is not winning the race. Andrew Beyer for one. Nothing personal, but his figure's are so overrated it's pathetic. If you went by his "Beyer Figure's" on Zenyatta, she'd be 0-14 instead of 14-0. Time and again people have given Zenyatta consistently low speed figures, but yet somehow the mighty mare remains undefeated. She should be HOY based on quality of competition factor alone. Saturday's Clark Handicap exposed Bullsbay and Macho Again finishing 7th and 9th respectively and Bullsbay finishing next to last in the B.C. Dirt Mile. Kind of makes Rachel's Woodward win look a bit less than stellar don't you think? It frankly exposes the Woodward for being what it was, a very soft field of older horses that Rachel barely beat. Zenyatta absolutely deserves to be HOY. If not, how do you explain away an undefeated race mare with two world championships as never having won HOY? You can't.
Ryan More than 1 year ago
Thank you very much for writing this. Extricating myself from the HOY debate for a second as well, this shows perfectly why debating the two horses on the basis of speed figures is simply an exercise in futility. The debate must be held on alternative grounds.
Mike A More than 1 year ago
Mr. Moss, You are absolutely right in your evaluation of Zenyatta's final beyers. Beyers are a tool, not the final word. They are not absolutes and will never take into account a horses ability to do what Z did in ALL of her races. After all, when Moses came down from the mount they're weren't 11 commandments, as Mr. Beyer would have us believe. What Z was able to accomplish in every single race, regardless of what the early pace was, was to run as fast as she needed to to win, that is rare indeed, something that legends are made of. It's a shame some do not recognize the fact. Such is life though, horses do not pick HOY, people do, and people will put the proper spin on it to reflect the fact that we are superior to all and hence better judges of what nature has to offer. I've seen Damascus, Dr. Fager, Forego, Kelso, John Henry, and Secrateriat run, I've seen some special horses in my time, RA had quite a year, as some other 3 yr. old fillies have, but for my money all that RA did this year evaporated in the stretch run of the BC Classic. Vote as you will, vote as your convictions tell you to, but for your sake and the sake of all the other experts, I hope RA doesn't stub her toe next year and cause some of you to wonder if they chose correctly. Mike A
Rob Anderson More than 1 year ago
The right club and the perfect lie (perfect trip). Rachel' and Zenyatta must be among the all-time greats.
m. ginnerty More than 1 year ago
I agree that pace makes the race and the final time but I don't agree that synthetic tracks are typically faster than dirt tracks. The six furlong world track record was just set at Turf Paradise, a dirt surface. It must be the exception to the rule but how do you explain the slower speed ratings for the past two Breeders Cups. Personally, I believe that handicappers want to see more years of artificial racing before making any judgment.
Mike More than 1 year ago
I have to agree Randy, comparing speed figures is useless when a horse like Zenyatta tries to barely beat its opponents. With regards to Horse of the Year, Rachel had 4 great races, The Oaks, The Preakness, The Haskell and the Woodward. Zenyatta only had the BC Classic as a "wow" race. Horse of the Year has to go to Rachel.
hoofprintsandhorseplay More than 1 year ago
Thank you Randy ! Finally someone to publicly explain 'Zenyatta's slower figs' than Rachel. I have been saying all along - "Time only matters in jail". Zenyatta's slower figs meant nothing. Greatness isn't often displayed in brilliant speed - but Rachel was blessed with it. Speed doesn't always equal greatness.
ron More than 1 year ago
zenyatta would bury Rachel. Point blank, case closed.
mark welsh More than 1 year ago
Finally, an Authority on speed Figs has come forward with a bright light to shine on the racing record of a Great Mare, Zenyatta. I watched her the last two years win races run with snail paces designed to beat Her. Who can forget Gomez on Life Is Sweet trying to trap Zenyatta on the rail and then forcing her into another excruciatingly wide trip. Watching Zenyatta continue to win in the face of adversity and stay undefeated. Winning the Breeder's Cup Classic led me to the conclusion that she was one for the ages, truly Extraordinary. Rachael's wins were well managed. Tight turns at Pimlico and shorter distances. She chose the Woodward(1 1/8) instead of the Travers at 1 1/4 miles against quality 3 year old colts. Rachael NO SHOWED at the Breeders Cup although she had run well over synthetics. Zenyatta stayed in training for her 5 year old season to try and earn the title of Champion on the racetrack. Horse of the Year is too often Race Industry bias and politics so who knows? Champions always show up for the Big Race.
Ghostzapper More than 1 year ago
Randy Moss, Spot on! You hit the nail right on the head!