02/24/2016 5:58PM

Marks: Winning is not everything

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Can you compare Muscle Hill (pictured) to Bold Eagle?

Often a horse race is like a basketball game in which at the buzzer the final score is 101-100 and while there is a winner, it can hardly be considered a decisive triumph.  Add another 10 seconds and the score might then be 102-101.

We’ve been seeing the same thing in the NFL of late as so many games get decided by a last-second field goal.

Accordingly, very often the winner of a race is the horse who just happens to be in front at the point of finish.  Move the line a little bit and you might have a different result.

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Erudite observers long ago learned to measure trips as a way of determining just which horse really went the best race and could be declared the superior animal. The theme was often, reverse the trips and then determine who would win.  If it’s the same horse, he’s superior.

In what some consider the greatest race ever staged--the March Of Dimes at Garden State Park—Ourasi sat outside of Mack Lobell all the way, edged past in deep stretch only to be nailed at the wire by Sugarcane Hanover. “Sugarcane” got the trophy but Ourasi earned the ranking with the French immortals like Roquepine and Une De Mai.

There’s been considerable debate concerning Somebeachsomewhere’s defeat by Art Official in their epic Meadowlands pace encounter. Yes, “Beach” went three wide down the backstretch but cleared before the turn while Art Official, who set the early pace and was in the process of parking out longshot Bullville Powerful, was probably hoping that one would be forced to find a hole. As it was, Art Official yielded to Beach then was right out again midway on the final turn and wore him down in the final strides.

That prompted all sorts of discussions—pro and con—and most likely if they raced 20 times, Beach would have won 19. That night it was different. Art Official was used throughout and he got up.  Put the wire 50 yards up and he might not have.

What if you are comparing horses of different generations?

As the results from France suggest, it is obvious Bold Eagle is indeed an exceptional trotter. He has been clearly superior to his rivals, especially in the Prix de Paris in which he was three or four-wide without cover for much of the journey and won handily.

How Bold Eagle’s effort would stack up against the likes of the great American trotter Muscle Hill cannot be determined. There are very distinct reasons. Muscle Hill can only be judged on his 2 and 3-year-old seasons in which he never went past the mile distance while Bold Eagle is a 5-year-old and racing over a longer distance of ground.

Should one choose to project how Bold Eagle might do under American conditions, there is ample precedence from previous European champion invaders that suggest he would be great.  As for Muscle Hill, his only known factor is that he was never truly extended in all of his victories and only driver Brian Sears would have real insight into what remained in the tank past the wire. 

Bret Hanover won 62 of 68 starts while Meadow Skipper’s win-start ratio was considerably less. They never raced each other but observers back then wouldn’t automatically concede victory to Bret had they met on an equal basis as 3 and 4-year-olds.

Meadow Skipper faced tougher competition than “Bret” in Overtrick, Cardigan Bay, Tarquinius and Henry T Adios. Bret’s rivals were Rivaltime, Tuxedo Hanover, Adios Vic and Cardigan Bay.  Bret was defeated by Adios Vic four times on big tracks though, and as is common knowledge, Vic struggled mightily with the turns on the twice-arounds.

Moreover, the Cardigan Bay that Bret faced was 10-years old and not quite as good as the 8-year-old version that Overtrick and Meadow Skipper encountered. In addition, Meadow Skipper endured some of the most arduous parked out trips, especially on the half milers. Regardless of where he may have finished over those tracks, he was often the best horse in the actual race.

Those that didn’t see him had little idea of the ability Meadow Skipper really possessed. This was further evidenced by his anemic initial breeding book numbers. That is until Most Happy Fella and Albatross happened. Suddenly he was in demand.   

It’s often been said, “This horse will be a top sire, he’s a Hambletonian winner”.  Indeed, the horse may have won the Hambletonain, but how exactly was that accomplished?  Did he earn the victory or inherit it via an easy trip? And then there’s the matter of his pedigree, individual conformation, and overall ability.

The same rationale applies to the horse you’re thinking of betting who may have beaten similar rivals last time out. It’s not necessarily who wins but how that race was contested!

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