08/14/2009 9:46AM

Welcome to Pacefig Central


    The Moss Pace Figure blog has officially arrived on your computer - or your Blackberry, or your iPhone, or whatever instrument you use to surf the web.

In future posts on this page, I’ll preview upcoming major stakes from a pace perspective, answer questions about the pacefigs and how to decipher them, and occasionally discuss or debate other handicapping topics while trying to stay out of Steve Crist’s way.  But be forewarned: when it comes to pacefigs and how they are calculated, I’m quite a numbers wonk, so if you ask a technical question, you can be assured to get a very technical answer.

Now, down to business. 

    This seems like a good time to announce that a major revision in Moss Pace Figures for synthetic tracks has been uploaded into the DRF computer system and should be available beginning with cards drawn Friday.  Now that the Beyer Speed Figure synthetic upgrade has been completed, I analyzed the relationships between fractional times and final times for every synthetic race at every distance run in the U.S., starting with the very first Polytrack race at Turfway Park back in 2005.  As a result, synthetic pacefigs will not only be more accurate, but their relationships to synthetic pars will also be available.

  Admittedly, I’ve struggled with the philosophy of dealing with synthetic figures, and an important point should be made here. 

The new pacefigs for synthetic tracks will provide a very accurate comparison of, say, 6 furlong races at Hollywood Park with 7 furlong races at Santa Anita, or 1 mile 70 yards  with a long runup at Woodbine with 1 1-16 miles at Keeneland.  Those comparisons are apples to apples, as they say.

But comparing synthetic track pacefigs to those of regular dirt tracks becomes problematic.  That’s because jockeys quickly learned that synthetic surfaces are more unkind to early speed than dirt surfaces, and adjusted their riding styles accordingly.  From the beginning of 2001 until Keeneland switched to Polytrack in the fall of 2006, a six-furlong race with a final Beyer Speed Figure of 84 had a variant-adjusted, average quarter-mile pacefig of 102 and a half-mile pacefig of 83  (for the purposes of making a point to a mass audience, I’m using Beyer figures instead of the Moss Pace Figure scale).  Since the Poly conversion, those same Keeneland races are averaging Beyer-scale pacefigs of only 58 and 65.  The change at Keeneland has been especially dramatic, given its old dirt track’s speed-and-rail reputation - but even at Hollywood Park, whose Cushion Track is widely considered the most dirt-like synthetic surface in America, pacefigs at that class level went from 79-86 to 68-77.

  The horses didn’t suddenly get slower.  They’re just being ridden more conservatively.  A sprinter capable of running a first quarter of :21 3/5 might go in :22 2/5 on synthetics and then revert to his/her original speed when returned to dirt.  Even come-from-behinders such as Zenyatta are ridden with less urgency on synthetics;  Mike Smith knows he can be more patient because the pacesetters in front of him are disadvantaged by the very nature of the surface.

Many horseplayers - even horsemen – underestimate the dramatic differences between synthetics and dirt because the fractions themselves are just as quick. However, that’s only because synthetic surfaces give horses better traction and thus tend to generate faster raw times. Santa Anita had a deserved reputation as a fast dirt track, but when it became Cushion Track/Pro Ride/whatever, the average Beyer track variant got 68% faster, going from 19 points fast to 32 points fast.

    So when using the retooled synthetic numbers, keep in mind that a pacefig profile for a particular race that is around 10 points faster than par is being stacked up against other synthetic races at that class/distance. If compared to dirt races, it might actually have come up slower than par. 

Bored yet?  I could go into much more detail on handicapping theories all this creates.  Maybe later.  For now, suffice to say that whenever possible, horseplayers using pace figures should think it terms of apples-to-apples and compare synthetics-to-synthetics and dirt-to-dirt.