08/04/2011 3:23PM

Final times of races can often mislead


If somebody tried to analyze the times of the Haskell and Jim Dandy in a vacuum, the conclusion would be that Haskell winner Coil ran faster than Jim Dandy winner Stay Thirsty. After all, Coil ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.20 on Sunday after Stay Thirsty ran the same distance in 1:48.78 on Saturday.

Back in racing's stone ages, pre-Beyer Speed Figures, players would have been left on their own. Now, they have a context.

Like every other track in America, Monmouth Park and Saratoga have adjusted parallel time charts that reflect relationships between sprints and routes. The two tracks have slightly different adjustments. Even more importantly last weekend, the speed of the surfaces was dramatically different.

Saratoga was not particularly fast last weekend, while Monmouth on Sunday was about as fast as an American racetrack gets.

In Beyer terminology, the Monmouth surface was 37 points fast or approximately 4.2 seconds at 1 1/8 miles. Saratoga on Sunday was 16 points fast or about 1.8 seconds at nine furlongs.

So, those seconds or points had to be subtracted from the actual times to get the Beyer Speed Figures. Stay Thirsty's raw time translated to a 122. Once the 16 points were subtracted, the Beyer became a 106. Coil's raw figure was 133. Once the 37 points were subtracted, the Haskell figure became a 96.

In actual speed-of-the-surface terms, Stay Thirsty was about 1 second (or about six lengths, if you prefer) better than Coil. That's a reality that times by themselves can never reveal. It is all about the speed of the surface on which those times were earned.

Haskell Day was pretty straightforward. The times fit together nicely, making the races relatively simple to assess and the variant not hard to assign. Saturday at Saratoga was a little more complex. The two 1 1/8-mile races seemed a bit aberrant. So Mark Hopkins, who does the Saratoga figures, waited until Sunday's races were complete to assign the numbers for Saturday.

"There were two mile-and-an-eighth races [Saturday], and we were thinking maybe, for some reason, the mile and an eighths were fast," Andrew Beyer said. "We decided to wait a day. If, for some reason, the mile-and-an-eighth races again came up fast, we might say these numbers weren't as good as they looked. We're not talking about huge differences. The next day was normal."

So, Stay Thirsty was assigned that career-best 106 Beyer.

"When you look at the 106 in the Jim Dandy and the figure for the Haskell by contrast, it makes you do a double take," Beyer said. "But there's not much doubt in our minds that the Jim Dandy was the stronger race."

The other 1 1/8-mile race on the Jim Dandy card was a first-level allowance. Malibu Glow won it in 1:50.18. The horse had gotten previous Beyers of 90, 84, and 82. This race had a raw figure of 109. So, the actual Beyer was 93, a three-point lifetime improvement.

Given the improvement of the two nine-furlong race winners, there were some initial doubts about the validity of the figures. Once the Sunday races at the distance demonstrated that there were no issues with the Saratoga parallel time charts, the 93 for that allowance seemed reasonable. And so did the Jim Dandy figure of 106.

Malibu Glow earned his previous two Beyers in stakes races, the Dwyer and Spend a Buck. The Dwyer winner, Dominus, was the Jim Dandy favorite. So, it was no great shock that a horse making his fifth lifetime start and dropping out of stakes company would give an improved performance against weaker competition.

The allowance race and the Jim Dandy will be monitored going forward. Making figures is definitely an art where looking back can sometimes clear up what might have been a bit fuzzy at the time.

Ruler On Ice and Stay Thirsty each made major forward moves in the Belmont Stakes. Ruler On Ice's 100 was a 14-point career top. Stay Thirsty's 99 was a 10-point career top.

Stay Thirsty continued forward again in the Jim Dandy. Ruler On Ice went back to a 92 when third in the Haskell.

So why did one go forward and the other backward? Now, if there were only concrete answers to such esoteric questions.

The obvious answer is that is there no answer, no one-size-fits-all solutions to the mystery that is playing this game, even with the kinds of tools long-ago players could not even have imagined.

Everyone has his own theories on bouncing and the like. When I look at a horse like Stay Thirsty, I am thinking this is a horse that has broken through and is likely to stay at this level, a level that can win him some more significant races in 2011. When I see Ruler On Ice, I think perhaps the Belmont was the exception to the rest of his past-performance life.

It is hard to be convinced when you see something just once. When you see something twice, it is much easier to suspend disbelief. I think Stay Thirsty has now become a serious player, Ruler On Ice less so.

As for Haskell runner-up Shackleford, what you see is what you get. He gives just about the same performance every time. That is quite good enough to make him a factor, less likely to get him to the winner's circle in the biggest races.

With that, on to the Travers.