12/17/2014 11:41AM

Jerardi: A closer inspection of Pennsylvania Derby Day bias

Justin N. Lane
Bayern earned a 110 Beyer Speed Figure in the Pennsylvania Derby on Sept. 20 at Parx.

As the Sept. 20 Pennsylvania Derby Day card was playing out, just about everybody was talking about the track bias that appeared to favor horses running on the rail. In the immediate aftermath, I was less sure there was a bias than most and decided to give it some time and then take a critical look at the data.

Three months is enough time. I took a look before the Breeders’ Cup and leaned toward the consensus that the rail was an edge, just not an overwhelming edge. With more time and more data now, I took a fresh look. I still think the rail was an edge, but the data is not absolutely conclusive.

As players, we rarely have the benefit of time. Horses just start running back and decisions have to be made. I would just caution those who see biases hidden under every speck of dirt that you should be very confident of your opinion when you start betting on or against horses that ran against or with a bias.

There were 12 dirt races on Sept. 20 at Parx. I did not go over every horse in every race, but I looked at enough of the horses to get a reasonably clear picture.

Let’s start with the three stakes and then go back over the card. Favorite Tale ran all the way on the rail in the Gallant Bob, blowing away the field and getting a career-best 104 Beyer Speed Figure. He came back in the Frank J. De Francis Memorial and ran well but not well enough to win, getting a 92 Beyer. Fast Anna chased Favorite Tale outside at Parx and got a 97 Beyer. He ran a similar kind of race in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint and got a 98 Beyer.

Untapable won the Cotillion while running three wide most of the way. She got a 94 Beyer. With a nice duel up top in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, she was terrific, winning like the star she is and getting a 103 Beyer.

It was widely thought Bayern got his 110 Beyer in the Pennsylvania Derby because he rode the live rail. I didn’t like him in the Breeders’ Cup Classic because: a) I thought that might be true, and b) he figured to have company up top. Well, there was no company and Bayern never stopped trying, winning the Classic and getting a career-best 113 Beyer. Tapiture was wide when second in the Pennsylvania Derby, getting a 100 Beyer. He was second in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile and got a 105.

California Chrome was on the rail at Parx, ran terribly, and then came back to run a brilliant third in the Classic, improving his Beyer by 15 points. I think his Pennsylvania Derby performance was irrelevant in determining if there was a bias. Everybody knows the horse is uncomfortable inside, and the Shermans were not confident California Chrome was race-ready after that extended layoff and not all that much training time.

So, what conclusions can we draw from the three stakes? Favorite Tale was almost certainly aided by being inside. Untapable was hurt by being outside. And Bayern is an exceptional horse who really does not need any help with a surface.

What about the rest of the card?

Niki and Dylan got loose on the lead in the opener and won by 12 lengths, getting a 60 Beyer, easily the best of his career. His next race, against winners, was horrible. Red Dirt Racer finished second while two and three wide, earning a 41 Beyer. He won his next start, getting a 49 Beyer. Determining finished third while running on the inside, getting a 41 Beyer. He won his next race, also getting a 41 Beyer.

Small Town Talk won the second race while racing outside. He got an 83 Beyer. He came back in his next race to get an 82. Dimension was second while running outside. He got a 79. His Beyer dropped seven points in his next start.

Serious Happiness won the third race while racing outside. She got a 51 Beyer and then a 47 in her next start. Sweet On Smokey was fifth while running outside. She was third in her next start while getting a 57 Beyer, improving her figure by 18 points.

Disco Chick ran outside and was second in the fourth race, earning an 83 Beyer. She won her next start getting a 90. Hallie Brooks was third while also outside. Her Beyer dropped by 12 points in her next start. Winning Image and Estrada’s Girl were fifth and sixth while wide. Each won her next start. Winning Image went from 73 to 90, and Estrada’s Girl went from 69 to 79. The fourth race was the one that most strongly suggested an inside bias.

Dawly won the sixth race on the rail. He got a 99. He won his next start and got a 97. The second and third horses were both wide. Their Beyers dropped by an average of 10.5 points in their next starts.

The fifth, seventh, and eighth races were ambiguous.

Jr.’s Chili Pepper won the 13th while on the rail the whole way. He got a 74 Beyer, just a three-point improvement, and then came back with a 75. I would call the 13th inconclusive.

I was taught a long time ago that you can rarely go wrong challenging the conventional wisdom, also known as keeping an open mind. It is true in life, and especially true at the track.

I think the conventional wisdom was mostly right about Pennsylvania Derby Day, but it never hurts to keep looking because you never really know what you might find unless you look.