05/13/2014 8:43PM

Marks: Sustained speed wins in any era

Lisa Photo
Muscle Hill's ability to sustain his optimum speed made him great.

Often overlooked in racing is the ability some horses have to sustain their speed as opposed to whatever their optimum speed turns out to be.

Actually the term speed better relates to a sprint, in which horses are going all out from start to finish covering the distance at whatever their maximum velocity happens to be.  In the old days, I always maintained that maximum velocity distance for standardbreds would be in the vicinity of five furlongs or five-eighths of a mile. Given the advanced technological equipment and our obviously improved track surfaces, I’d imagine that maximum velocity distance has stretched to six furlongs or three-quarters of a mile.

With the conventional distance for a harness race placed at one mile, races tend to be rated, especially through middle halves. That often leaves final quarters as the fastest in a given race. On the flip side, in Thoroughbred racing that is often NOT the case. Even in sprints the last quarter or eighth may be the slowest portion of the race.

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Which brings to mind the age old handicapping question: Are closers really closing via acceleration or are they merely maintaining velocity and overtaking tiring leaders?

I used to wonder why so many wide receivers and/or running backs get nailed by pursuing defenders inside the five yard line until I realized that the 40 yard dash is the measuring yardstick for sprinting in pro football.

Therefore it stands to reason that a defender lining up some yards behind the line of scrimmage may be at lesser portion of his maximum velocity sprint distance while the offensive player, who lined up at the scrimmage line or in the case of a running back 5 or 6 yards behind center, would be beyond his 40 yard sprint capacity.   Consequently, while both can do their 40 in 4.4 seconds, the defender having started later is maintaining while the other is slowing creating the illusion of superior speed.

Decades ago a rather unique pacer named Explorer graced the local scene at Roosevelt and Yonkers for some half-dozen years. While Explorer may have been a tad unique, he was eminently predictable in terms of his racing style, adhering to the term stone-cold puller.

Simply put, Explorer needed to have the lead and for the most part his driver (and there were many) was merely a passenger. He would bolt for the front regardless of post position.  He did this every start and in the six years I watched him, only once did he not have the lead turning for home.

When really sharp, Explorer was an A-class pacer. When dull, he’d be a B-level or even C-class competitor.  Race after race he would surge to the front, and at Yonkers given the short stretch, he would hang on for a win once in a while.

When younger, his typical mile would be 29 3/5, 59 4/5, 1:30 2/5 and home in 2:01 and change. The early fractions were typical for fast class pacers of that era, although as we learned, the better horses could do the first half and still come home better than 30 seconds. Regardless of class level, Explorer’s race lines would follow the pattern: 5 1 1 1 1 4

As an 11-year-old, Explorer’s typical mile would be 29 3/5, 59 4/5, 1:32 and home in 2:05 or so. The senior version of Explorer could still maintain his customary speed for the short term but no longer could sustain that speed for the entire mile.

On a similar vein, current aged pacing star Golden Receiver is still as fast as he ever was for the opening fractions but in his twilight years doesn’t sustain it as often as he used to.

In the modern era, we find the great ones like Muscle Hill and Somebeachsomewhere are not necessarily that much faster than their contemporaries but they seem able to sustain maximum speed for longer distances.

According to trainer Greg Peck and driver Brian Sears, Muscle Hill was never fully extended, although at DuQuoin he did show a final quarter of 26 2/5.  His optimum mile time was 1:50 1/5, equal to what others have done. However, in his case, there may have been more left in the tank. While he never showed opening fractions beyond what others could do, there’s little doubt he was capable of sustaining optimum speed longer than the next guy.

We did get to see Somebeachsomewhere race all-out in the spectacular Meadowlands pace of 2008. Despite a brutal trip he got nailed at the wire by Art Official in a then record 1:47 mile. Art Official went an equally incredible trip as well, being parked to the quarter, pressured to the half until yielding to “Beach’s” three wide bid before edging out and nailing the “Beach” at the wire.

Somebeachsomewhere made that historic three-wide bid approaching the 51 4/5 half and turned for home with a clear lead, but could not sustain velocity in the deep stretch.

Lesser horses than those two would have finished up the track given similar trips.

In short, the ability to sustain optimum speed longer than the next guy is the difference between the great and the merely good. And that holds true despite the increased speeds standardbreds are capable of these days as opposed to the Roosevelt/Yonkers half-mile era. Back then a good horse might hit three quarters in 1:29 2/5 and come home in 29 4/5 to complete the mile in 1:59 1/5. The not so good horse might hit the three quarter pole in similar time but could not sustain his speed and might finish out in 2:00 or slower.  While today’s horses go much faster, the speed-stamina formula remains the same.      

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