12/01/2016 12:36PM

Jerardi: Changing surfaces cause for tricky figure-making


The first four dirt races at Aqueduct last Saturday were a figure-makers dream. The final times made sense in relation to what was expected, and the apparent outlier, Elate, a first-time starter, emphatically announced herself as a stakes horse with a dominating 12 1/2-length win. Then they ran the Remsen, the fifth dirt race and the third 1 1/8-mile race on the card.

If Mark Hopkins, who does the New York Beyer Speed Figures for the Beyer team, had gone strictly by the established variant to that point, Remsen winner Mo Town would have gotten a 96 Beyer, a 12-point improvement from his maiden win, certainly not impossible but at least worthy of further scrutiny. No Dozing, second in the Remsen, would have gotten an 11-point improvement, again not out of the question, but also worth a longer look.

When they ran the Cigar Mile two races later, Hopkins thinks he got his answer. If he had gone by what looked like the variant, Cigar Mile winner Connect would have gotten a 119 Beyer, with Divining Rod getting a 118. That really did seem impossible.

“I’m sure everybody wants an explanation of what happened,” Hopkins said. “The track obviously sped up dramatically. When it happened, I don’t know, but as far as these horses in the [Remsen], 2-year-olds going a mile and an eighth, I’m not expecting any jump in the figures.”

An explanation is necessary because the Demoiselle for 2-year-old fillies went in 1:53.34, nearly two seconds slower than the Remsen’s 1:51.58. Yet Demoiselle winner Miss Sky Warrior got an 80 Beyer, just six points off Mo Town’s 86 Beyer, even as the times argue for a 16-point difference.

“There’s just not any evidence as far as I’m concerned to give this race more than what I gave it,’’ Hopkins said. “I could be 100 percent wrong. The thing about this is we’re not going to know because this is it for these horses this year. They’ll come back, they’ll have improved four or five lengths, they’ll run five, six, or seven points faster, and this figure will look wrong. I don’t believe it’s wrong.’’

Even with the adjustment, the first, second, fourth, and sixth finishers in the Remsen still got career-best Beyers, with fourth-place Win With Pride getting a 16-point improvement. Takaful, third after a dominating maiden win, went from a 92 to a 77.

Time and future times will tell on the Remsen figure. Basically, Hopkins was tasked with determining how much faster the surface got and when it happened once he saw the Cigar Mile time. He determined it got 10 Beyer points faster (one second at a mile and an eighth) for the Remsen and 13 points faster for the Cigar Mile. Connect got a career-best 106 Beyer, three points better than his Pennsylvania Derby figure. Divining Rod got a 105, his first triple-digit Beyer. Realm, third in the Cigar, went from a 95 to a 97, perfectly plausible.

“I can understand why there would be questioning with this figure,” Hopkins said of the Remsen. “There’s no way to make a statement that I’m 100 percent confident in this number, no matter what number I made. This is about as confident as I can get.”

Beyer himself does the figures at Churchill Downs, which featured all 2-year-olds last Saturday, including two 1 1/16-mile stakes. He was faced with a similar dilemma in making those figures. After Beyer was done, he consulted with Hopkins.

The Churchill surface, they concluded, slowed down just a bit as the day went on. The first six dirt races got one variant, a minus-31 on an obviously very fast surface. The next two dirt races got another variant, minus-26, and the final two dirt races got a -21 as the expected times got slower.

If, for instance, Beyer had stayed with the same variant throughout the day, Golden Rod winner Farrell would have gotten a 75 Beyer instead of the 80 she did get. Kentucky Jockey Club winner McCraken, who was as visually impressive with that turn run as any 2-year-old this side of Classic Empire, would have gotten a 76 instead of the 86 he did get.

“Obviously, the track slowed down a bit,” Hopkins said

Again, it was just a question of when and how much.

“We’d like it to be uniform throughout the day, but the reason we get the big bucks is that it’s not some days,” Hopkins said. “There were dramatic changes in New York and somewhat subtle in Kentucky.”