02/25/2014 3:32PM

Andrew Beyer: Fountain of Youth result confirms bias

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Barbara D. Livingston
Wildcat Red (right) and General a Rod hung tough in the Fountain of Youth, but their performances were likely aided by a strong Gulfstream Park speed bias.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Some of the nation’s promising 3-year-olds raced at Gulfstream Park Saturday and put on an exciting show. Wildcat Red won a dramatic head-and-head stretch duel to beat General a Rod in the Fountain of Youth Stakes. Constitution, who may be trainer Todd Pletcher’s best 3-year-old, ran away from a strong field in an allowance race. They all established their credentials as Kentucky Derby contenders. Or did they?

Sometimes a high-profile race or racing card illustrates principles of the game so perfectly that they become a textbook lesson in handicapping. The events at Gulfstream make a case study into track biases – detecting their existence and judging their effect on races.

From the 1970s into the 1990s, powerful biases regularly dictated the results at certain tracks: Front-runners on the rail dominated at Pimlico and Keeneland; horses swooping wide on the turn won at Belmont. But the game has changed in the last decade or two. Track superintendents are more aware of biases and learned how to eradicate them. Even so, horseplayers think they see biases everywhere. Some believe that the Gulfstream Park strip has been speed-favoring for most of the season. I would contend that the success of speed horses is not necessarily due to a bias. While Gulfstream has an abundance of horses who fill fields for grass races, its dirt races have been underpopulated. Last Thursday its five dirt races drew fields of 7, 6, 7, 7, and 5. The chances of a front-runner are enhanced in a small field – there are fewer rivals to put pressure on him – and on Thursday three of these races were won by front-runners. They paid $5, $7.60, and $3.20, all logical results that had little to do with the racing surface.

[ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY DERBY: Prep races, point standings, replays]

Biases are revealed by results that appear illogical: A faint-hearted runner goes to the front and pulls away from the field. Horses battle for the lead at a suicidal pace, yet they keep on going strong instead of dying in the stretch.

Gulfstream carded six races on dirt Saturday, and five of them were won by the front-runner. The exception hardly counts: Normandy Invasion, a 1-5 favorite against an overmatched field, would have won under any circumstances, and he had no difficulty rallying past his rivals.

In the other races before the Fountain of Youth:

* Social Inclusion, a first-time starter who had worked blazingly fast and earned rave reviews from clockers, blasted from the gate and dominated a maiden race.

* Global Strike, a Pletcher-trained maiden, was a justified 3-5 favorite and led all the way.

* Onlyforyou, Pletcher’s undefeated 3-year-old filly, led all the way to win the Davona Dale Stakes as the even-money favorite.

* Constitution, who had made his debut last month with a display of great speed, found himself in an allowance devoid of front-runners. He popped from the gate and went to the lead, as his main rival, Tonalist, chased in vain.

Four front-running winners, four logical results. If any horseplayer had told me there was a “speed bias,” I would have laughed. And then came the Fountain of Youth.

Wildcat Red had scored four previous victories, all in sprints. He’s the son of a sprinter, and there was ample reason to doubt that he would be effective in 1 1/16-mile stakes. General a Rod is a speedster, too (albeit one with a more robust pedigree) and he was also trying to go two turns for the first time. Accordingly, the crowd made a solid favorite of Top Billing, a proven distance runner and a strong finisher.

When the gate opened, the riders on Wildcat Red and General a Rod both had the same idea: Use the horse’s speed and go to the lead. They were head and head from the start. On the backstretch Luis Saez was putting Wildcat Red under an all-out drive and setting a breathtaking pace: three-quarters in 1:10.13. General a Rod stayed glued to him. After the two colts turned into the stretch, they figured to collapse. They didn’t.

They battled to the wire, with Wildcat Red winning the photo. Top Billing, who had advanced to third on the turn, barely gained on them in the stretch. Two horses with uncertain stamina engage in the most grueling of duels and neither one of them weakens? In my opinion, this would not have happened on a normal racing surface. This outcome had to be the result of a strong speed-favoring bias, and its existence prompts a reevaluation of everything that happened on the dirt at Gulfstream Saturday.

Even though the top two finishers earned Beyer Speed Figures of 101, the best by any 3-year-olds in the nation, I would view their performances as a bias-produced aberration and would be prepared to bet against them when they run again. The track may have been an excuse for Top Billing, but – bias or no bias – he should have mustered more of a rally than he did. His was a disappointing effort.

When Constitution won his allowance race, he looked as if he might be establishing himself as the star of his generation. But with the evidence he raced over a strongly speed-favoring surface, his effort appears less impressive. He still has to prove himself under fairer conditions. However, the horses behind Constitution deserve an upgrade. Tonalist, bounced around as he left the gate, raced four wide around the first turn. With Constitution loose on the lead in front of him, Joe Bravo had to alter the colt’s preferred stretch-running style and try to chase the leader. His second-place finish was commendable under the circumstances. So, too, was the performance of Mexikoma, who broke from the disadvantageous outside post, raced wide around both turns and rallied from last place to finish third. The 3-year-olds with the brightest futures may not be the ones who were in the winner’s circle Saturday.

© 2014 The Washington Post

Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Andy has been as consistent as a heart beat. I agree with his view. Just because the two put on a great duel means little that they are the top 2. All they showed us was that they are equal in ability. Against others in California right now, they may pale.
Mark More than 1 year ago
FOY results confirm TB not what you thought he was.
Joe More than 1 year ago
and what are these horses gonna do in ky. if the track is dif dont go to the windows yet.
Richard More than 1 year ago
A speed/rail bias has nothing to do with final times or Beyer #; only with the advantages a horse running in front or in second place on the rail has over the rest. If a "slower track" has an inside bias then the front runners riding the rail will win most of the races, regardless of the final times. Tracks like Churchill Downs, Gulfstream Park, Santa Anita and the older version of Keeneland as well as the old Jamaica Racetrack and several others, have historically and statistically favored inside speed.
Geral John Pinault More than 1 year ago
Speed rarely wins The Derby!
Juan DE La Cruz More than 1 year ago
How about War Game?
long_shot_alert More than 1 year ago
"Speed" and rail biases are two completely different things. A rail bias is a real thing. A speed bias is myth. Imagine people instead of horses running over a track. A rail bias would still exist; a "speed" bias wouldn't. Now it is possible that wind can create conditions that favor a certain running style. The track itself though can not.
Richard More than 1 year ago
You are correct; the term "speed bias" usually involves a faster one and two path but wind direction can play in favor of a particular run unit style based on the starting point of the race.
David Merida More than 1 year ago
Even though Top Billing & Commissioner had already won going two-turns, those victories were against maidens and optional-claimer types; neither one of them had faced stakes winners, nor the kind of pace both Wildcat Red & General A Rod are accustomed to running. One quick look at their PP's, and you can realize General A Rod's only previous defeat came vs Conquest Titan, a proven & experienced $190K stakes winner. Wildcat Red was also a $235K-graded stakes winner that has repeatedly shown he is gritty, seasoned and tough as nails; both of them are used to going 45 and change at GP, and still finish strong, at least up to a a mile. You guys handicapped the FOY as if it was the Ky Derby at 10 furlongs, when it was a 1,700 mts at speed-favoring GP. The race was dominated by the 2 horses which had shown the most class and had run the FASTEST in their previous races according to YOUR OWN speed figures, and you still claim "bias". But Beyer is not alone in his assessment; Watchmaker wrote that "The Risen Star, at least, was run on a fair Fair Grounds main track. But while Intense Holiday and Albano put on a nice show separating themselves from the rest of the Risen Star field, it’s frankly difficult being enthused about the potential impact of this race going forward. For one, the Risen Star was run in 22 one-hundredths of a second slower than fillies went in the Rachel Alexandra Stakes a little more than an hour earlier. Yes, I know that Untapable freaked in the Rachel Alexandra. Still, even though these two stakes had comparable early paces, the Risen Star was the slower race. Also, Albano, who came out on the short end of the win photo, fell into a much easier early lead than anyone figured to get." So...He's not enthused because Albano had an easy lead, could not last and ran a slower time than the fillies...But...he also claims "bias" when Wildcat Red & General A Rod go on a cutthroat duel with strong fractions to finish 1-2 in the FOY, and their finish time (1:41:85) is almost 2 seconds faster than Onlyforyou's in the Davona Dale (G2) (1:43:71), beating G1-winner We Miss Artie, G1-placed Casiguapo, and one of the alleged top prospects of the division (Top Billing), a horse that had a bad post, but also had an almost perfect set-up because of how the race was run....and yet you talk about GP's speed bias as if it was something out of the ordinary...GP has always favored speed, the same way Santa Anita has always favored speed, and CD has a rail bias. C'mon, experts...Your need to justify your failed handicapping is what kills me about expert handicappers and speed-figure makers.
RayC More than 1 year ago
kevin great comment and the guy has lost it when he starts talking about a race caller in tampa who has more back class than he will ever have maybe he should have payed more attention to his job than things that really the outcome will take course if needed beyer all he knows is to point the finger its time someone points it at him..
Kevin Miller More than 1 year ago
Your speed ratings are no better that the old Racing Form Speed ratings and track variant. I honestly thought that you retired after last year's triple crown picks.
Steve Brabant More than 1 year ago
The Beyer argument lost its credibility when he started criticising Top Billings race and result...he ran into the teeth of this bias...he should have run better? he lost by two lengths! General A-Rod is the horse that likely compromised his style the most....he is not a need the lead type....he could have sat and waited but Castellano did what i thought at first was insane and engaged a horse that would likely stop. He still stayed on.....he has a low dosage index and makes him interesting going longer....Wildcat Red is a monster banger..and could likely win the BC sprint later this year..
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The speed bias is even more prevalent today, 2/26/2014. You get the lead dirt or turf, you win!
John Hamer More than 1 year ago
Ummm... Does Beyer even follow racing? 1) You almost never see dead closers win at Gulfstream. 2) It's easier to wire a field at 8.5 at Gulfstream than at 7f because everyone has to slow down for the almost immediate first turn. I thought the race reminded me of the FOY with 2nd of June and Read the Footnotes who ran huge, but failed big to Friends Lake in the FL Derby. I feel that Top Billing's reputation has always exceeded his ability/performance. Honor Code, my friends, is the one.
Blaine MacMillan More than 1 year ago
Both Top Billing and Honor Code, my friend, are legitimate Kentucky Derby contenders. Honor Code appears to be more versatile of the two...