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Is Rachel Alexandra the Best Filly Ever?

So how good is Rachel Alexandra?  We’ve heard everything from “best filly ever” to “overrated” and just about everything in between.  All of these assessments are fair based on a cursory look at what she’s done.  On one hand, she’s done things that 3 year old fillies have never done (win a classic, beat older males in a G1, win the Kentucky Oaks by almost 20 lengths).  On the other hand her competition has been historically weak.  The 3 year old fillies she’s beating are so far away from normal championship quality that you could measure the gap by eighth poles and quarter poles rather than lengths; and Rachel was life and death to hold on against Macho Again who wouldn’t even be Grade 1 quality in most handicap divisions and Mine That Bird who is still one of the more fluky Kentucky Derby winners in history.  On the flipside though, she had brutal trips in the Preakness and Woodward and showed incredible competitive spirit and talent to still hold on and win.  In a race like the Haskell where she didn’t encounter arduous circumstances, she produced an exceptional performance and an exceptional speed figure.

On the other hand…well there is no other hand.  That’s pretty much what you’ve got.  Rachel Alexandra is a 3 year old filly who can run a 116 Beyer Speed Figure against top competition in a fairly run race and a 108-11 BSF when she encounters difficult trip and pace scenarios.

So where does that leave us?  In my last post I talked about how I loved speed figures because they provide us with some means of comparing horses in a historical sense.  Here are Rachel Alexandra’s last several Beyers:

Woodward – 109
Haskell – 116
Mother Goose – 111
Preakness – 108
Kentucky Oaks – 108

For comparative purposes here are some other recent 3 yo filly champs and their top Beyers during their 3 yo filly season:

2008 Proud Spell – Tops of 101, 99, 99, 97
2007 Rags to Riches – Tops of 107, 104, 98, 96
2006 Wait A While -Her accomplishments came on turf.  Dirt top of 90
2005 Smuggler – Tops of 98, 94, 93, 92 in season that ended in July.
2004 Ashado – Tops of 106, 103, 103, 102
2003 Bird Town -Tops of 101, 100, 100, 100
2002 Farda Amiga -Tops of 103, 103, 100, 95

Clearly Rachel Alexandra is FAST.  Much faster than most recent 3 year old filly champs.  When she encountered difficult pace scenarios in the Preakness & Woodward she still ran faster than any recent 3 yo filly champ ran in their best effort, and under normal circumstances she was 10-15 points superior.

So how does she compare to some of the greats?  Well on the positive side, 116 is about as fast as it gets.  On the negative side, there are quite a few who have run figures in that range.  Here are a few examples:

Lakeway ran a 117 winning the Hollywood Oaks.

Surfside ran a 116 winning the Clark (alebit much later in the season)

Silverbulletday ran a 115 in the Alabama – to go along with 109-107-108 in the Black Eyed Susan, Kentucky Oaks, & Ashland.

Go For Wand:

Beldame – 117
Maskette – 105
Alabama – 111
Test – 114
Mother Goose – 104

Then there’s Xtra Heat who couldn’t do it going long, but ran sprint figures of 120, 119, 117 as a 3 yo filly.

Very Subtle ran a 121 when she won the 1987 Breeders’ Cup Sprint over Groovy as a 3 year old filly.

Miesque ran a 119 when she won the  1987 Breeders’ Cup Turf Mile as a 3 yo filly.

I also seem to recall Mantistique running a 115 type number as a 3 yo filly at Hollywood but I have no record of it.  Winning Colors ran a similar number winning the Santa Anita Derby if memory serves, but I have no record of that either.  Winning Colors also ran a 115 in defeat losing to Personal Ensign in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff.

As far as older fillies & mares, clearly they have run faster due to maturity, but for comparative purposes the 2 fastest Breeders’ Cup Distaff’s on record belong to Princess Rooney (120) and Inside Information (119).  The great Lady’s Secret ran a 113 winning the BC Distaff but put up figures of 120 (Woodward), 119 (Ruffian), 118 (Whitney), and 116 (Maskette) in 1986.

“Great” is a term that is thrown around all too easily these days, but what’s the correct definition?  I define greatness as the intersection between extraordinary ability/talent and extraordinary accomplishments.  Many horses have one of the two, but few have both.  Rachel Alexandra displayed both in her 3 yo filly season.  Her 3 yo filly season was as accomplished as any by a 3 year old filly in recent memory.  But others are accomplished too which is where the figure comparison comes into play.

Is Rachel Alexandra substantially more talented than horses like Ruffian, Go For Wand, Silverbulletday and Winning Colors?  Definitely not.  They’re all in the same ballpark and would likely have traded wins with each other had they regularly competed against each other.  But her accomplishments as a 3 year old filly meet or exceed what any single one of them did over the course of a season.

In the final tally you have a horse who was as fast as any 3 year old filly in history and accomplished as much or more than any 3 yo filly in history.   In a single race I’m not so sure she could beat a handful of history’s top fillies, but when her ability is considered collectively with her accomplishments there’s no doubt she’s great and you’d be hard-pressed to say that any single 3 yo filly was better in a combined analysis – thereby making Rachel Alexandra the best 3 year old filly ever!


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Why I Like Speed Figures

I fell in love with the concept of speed figures when I was 13 years old. My parents made the mistake of buying me a copy of Andy Beyer’s “Picking Winners” after my first several visits to Belmont and it was a match made in heaven. Suddenly it all made sense! As someone who’s mathematically-oriented I loved the idea of constructing a number to equate performances on different days, at different distances, at different tracks. A quantifiable way of measuring each performance – just how fast a horse ran – rather than trying to quantify abstract concepts like class or “he ran well.” Here was a way to bring all of these variables into line as if all horses ran in the exact same race or at least at the same place, on the same day, at the same distance, on a track whose speed and surface that never changed and was never affected by weather and elements. And the foundation behind the construction of the numbers was logical too – that a fifth of a second is more significant at shorter distances than at longer distances. A runner who misses the 1 Mile world record by 1 second is still among the best ever while a runner who misses the 100 meter world record by 1 second is ordinary.

At 14 I began making my own speed figures. After that I was introduced to Thorograph & Ragozin sheets. I no longer have the time or energy to make my own figures – and certainly I consider a multitude of handicapping variables from pace to trips to trainers – but speed handicapping has always stayed with me as the core foundation of my handicapping approach. Speed figures are where racing makes sense to me. Speed figures measure how fast a horse ran and at the end of the day isn’t that what we’re all trying to figure out? Certainly there are a number of factors that influence the outcome of a race and this is why the correct application of speed figures involves a lot more than simply betting the fastest last number or fastest average last 3 numbers etc, but at the end of day no horse ever won a race while crossing the finish line in a slower time than his competitors (save for DQ’s of course).

Speed figures have an additional value for me as well. Aside from their practical application in day-to-day handicapping, they allow you to put top performances in some sort of historical or relative context. When a 3 year old wins its debut by 7 lengths, speed figures tell us if we’re looking at a horse that belongs on the Derby trail. When a horse wins by a large margin at a second tier track, the clock tells us if that horse has what it takes to compete with the elite in New York or California. Speed figures also provide the only semi-reliable means for comparing horses from different generations. Every generation has a set of champions, but speed figures are the most reliable method of figuring out just how good each one was and who was better than who. Are they failsafe and absolute? Of course not. But generally, a horse who typically runs 122-119-118-120 is superior to a horse who routinely runs in the 108-110 range.

There are some who detest such an approach but there’s no question that speed figures give us a more reliable assessment of a horse’s ability level than anything else – particularly assessments drawn by nothing more than the untrained human eye or things like wins and class that are either vague or utterly irrelevant without being put into some type of context. Those who are offended by such measurements generally aren’t very analytical or are simply clueless as to what a speed figure actually represents, how it’s calculated, and how it should be properly applied. We mock what we don’t understand. Or, in the words of Neil Peart (obligatory Rush reference – I’ve been slacking in that department thus far): Quick to judge, quick to anger, slow to understand / ignorance and prejudice and fear walk hand in hand…

So what’s the point to all of this beyond writing a basic 3rd grade essay on “Why I like speed figures?” Well first, I will using speed figures and sheet #’s quite frequently in this blog to measure and assess performances as well as to put them into historical and seasonal context. Second, I have several entries planned around the discussing certain top horses and just how fast they really were. Additionally, because of my love for numbers I have accumulated a pretty extensive collection of Beyer Speed Figures from top horses over the years – including many that were published either in the Racing Times or even before then when his figures were available through Bloodstock Research. It should make for some really interesting conversation in the coming days and weeks – particularly with the Breeders’ Cup coming around. With the exception of a few early turf races, I actually have an archive of the winning Beyer Speed Figure for every Breeders’ Cup race ever run…which I’ll publish soon.

A good place to begin though is probably with Rachel Alexandra and how she compares to other top 3 year old fillies over the years. I’ll work on that next…


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How to Fix the Breeders’ Cup

By this time next year, three years will have passed since there was a single Breeders’ Cup race that took place on dirt.  THREE YEARS!!!  That’s as sad as it is unbelievable!  Some championship…  Not to mention the fact that I’ve yet to encounter a single person who prefers the term “Ladies Classic” to Distaff.  The various  “improvements” bestowed upon us by the erstwhile powers-that-be have thoroughly diluted this once great event.

Bottom line:  The Breeders’ Cup is broken, folks.  Not irreversibly, but it’s getting there.  The good thing is that it can be fixed in 3 simple steps.  Let’s fix it.

Since those in charge currently seem to be contemplating how to plan the event for the future I propose the following simple and easy ground rules to restore the event to its rightful place as a day that racing fans can truly look forward to:

1)  The Breeders’ Cup should not be a 2-day event. In this case two halves do NOT exceed one whole.  In fact, they seldom do.  I remember when Belmont used to run “Super Saturday” cards in the fall combining all of their major Grade 1 races into a single card.  They were exciting.  Then they tried to spread the races out over an entire weekend.  It didn’t work.  They turned into ordinary racing days with several stakes races run.  Racing isn’t popular enough anymore to support too many big days.  You need to hit it out of the park when it counts.  Most of the world could give a crap about the “Ladies Classic,” let alone the “Juvenile Fillies Turf.”  There’s simply no reason other than desperate economics (read: short term gain, long term pain) to try to stretch the event into a Friday afternoon.

Run the Breeders’ Cup on Saturday like they used to – with only the most important races.  Make that card so strong that the rest of the racing world (and some of the rest of the world as well) stops to pay attention – like they used to.  Only run races significant enough to be Grade 1’s – like they used to.  How pathetic is it that they now run Breeders’ Cup races that can’t even be called Grade 1’s with a straight face?  Isn’t there some saying about “if it ain’t broke…?”  Here’s another thought: If you draw a field where you can’t immediately tell if the race is being run on Breeders’ Cup day or a month later at Aqueduct when looking at the entrants and past performances, then you’ve done something seriously wrong and the race probably doesn’t deserve to be part of the Breeders Cup card!!!

2)  Let’s nix the marathon, turf sprint, dirt mile, juvenile turf, and juvenile fillies turf. None of these are championship events.  Look at the fields.  Look at the winners so far.  These are no elite races and the horses winning these races aren’t elite horses .  The only thing the Breeders Cup was missing was a filly & mare sprint.  That’s an Eclipse Award category and there are legit Grade 1 horses ready to run in such a race.  Keep it.  No one was asking for any of these other races.  They don’t fill any void.  None of these other races determine Eclipse Awards, draw G1 fields, or serve any legitimate purpose other than to waste purse money and serve as a desperate attempt to get a second day out of the BC by calling them Breeders’ Cup events.  Run these other events as non-Breeders’ Cup stakes races on the day before or day after if you must, but stop diluting the main event with this silliness that more resemble the Calder Festival of Racing where they run 2 furlong and 2 mile races simultaneously in opposite directions  than they do championship events where we’ve seen some of the greatest races in the history of the sport.

3)  No Breeders’ Cup can be run at a track that doesn’t have dirt. I’m sorry but it’s absolutely ridiculous to pass off an event as a determinant of champions when not a single dirt race is run.  This is America for god sakes – here we run on dirt!  Synthetics are a third surface and they need to be treated as such.  Last year you saw Eclipse voters ignore most of the Breeders’ Cup results for this reason.  This year, it’s gone a step further and many top horses are deliberately skipping the event because it’s on synthetics.  California rushed to judgment and installed synthetic courses throughout the state.  That’s their problem.  They made their bed and they should have to lie in it – but it doesn’t mean the rest of the sport has to suffer.  Perhaps we should create a separate Eclipse for synthetic horses (for at least as long as they last), but let’s bring these races back to a time where they actually mattered and actually represented a level playing field from which to settle rivalries and help determine year-end championships.

It’s time for drastic action because you can see the downward trend developing right before you.  In a matter of 2 years they have essentially torn down all of what they spent 2 decades building up.  The Breeders’ Cup is on a fast track towards being nothing more than a series of big money events with no other real value rather than the biggest day in racing and a series of “can’t miss” races (for the Eclipse contenders as well as the fans).

1 Day.  9 Championship races.  Dirt.  Not so hard, is it?!  All in favor, say I…


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A Look at the 2009 Horse of the Year Picture

With the Breeders’ Cup almost upon us there is far more debate than usual about Horse of the Year this year – much of it due to some very out of the ordinary circumstances which require a different level of analysis and evaluation of campaigns than we typically encounter in these discussions.  Much of the determination for 2009 Horse of the Year really boils down to one simple question: Just how much is a Breeders’ Cup Classic win worth when the race isn’t being run on dirt, the field is missing its 2 biggest drawing cards, and the handicap division is among the weakest in racing history?  To me the answer is not all that much.  Certainly not enough to overcome the lead that Rachel Alexandra has established with one of the most incredible campaigns ever by a 3 year old filly.

The Breeders’ Cup Classic is often the defining race for Horse of the Year because of what it represents – the central meeting point for 3 year olds and older horse at a classic distance on the dirt.  It’s a race that everyone gears their campaigns toward so there are no excuses – a championship event.  Those factors are not present in this year’s event.  For starters, the race isn’t on dirt.  Some may want to bury their heads in the sand and pretend otherwise, but synthetics are a completely separate surface and most horses have different ability levels on each.  Some, like Santa Anita’s Pro-Ride surface bear little resemblance to dirt and, in fact, appear to favor turf ability and running styles more than dirt form. American racing is built around dirt.  That’s what we’re about and that’s what we reward in our year-end balloting.  Running a race on a non-dirt surface and calling it a “championship” or a “Breeders’ Cup” race doesn’t make it any more meaningful or impactful or make it any more relevant a measure of dirt ability.  It’s not.  You simply cannot apply the same weight to a “championship” event run on Pro-Ride that you would to a normal Breeders’ Cup Classic run on dirt.

Further diluting the value of a Breeders’ Cup Classic win this year is the quality of the field – or lack thereof.  The 2009 handicap division is the weakest I can ever recall.  There are simply no elite older horses this year.  Horses like Macho Again and Bullsbay and Dry Martini would be also-rans in most years, not trading wins in major Grade 1 races.  It’s just mind-boggling to see major handicap races won with BSF’s barely breaking 100.  In fact, the highest Beyer speed figure recorded by an older male this entire year is a 111 (Rail Trip & Solar Flare).  That’s astounding.  That the Whitney was won by a horse who had never previously exceeded a 100 BSF pretty much says it all about this division.  Add to the fact that Rachel Alexandra and Sea The Stars won’t be in the field and it’s hard to argue that winning the Classic is particularly significant in any way other than purse value to the winning connections.  Yes – there are some good Europeans coming over (and they will probably win) but they are grass horses and this is closer to a grass race than a dirt race.  What it is not is a race that should be the primary determinant of the 2009 Horse of the Year.

With all of the above said, let’s take a quick look at the individual candidates:

RACHEL ALEXANDRA – Needs no introduction.  8-for-8 this year including 5 Grade 1’s and 3 G1 wins against males.  Yes she went to sidelines a month early, but she ran one of the most ambitious campaigns for a 3-year old filly in many years.  She beat males while encountering exceptionally difficult trips and pace scenarios and absolutely demolished her 3 yo filly counterparts – albeit weak ones.  Her 8 wins also took place over 7 different racetracks in 6 different states.  At every path her connections challenged her.  They traveled, they faced 3 yo males in the Preakness and Haskell, they faced older males in the Woodward.  That ambition need to be rewarded.  That mentality is what we need in racing these days in this era where it’s all too common to see top horses never face each other and avoid top competition except for a few select races each year.

SUMMER BIRD – He has matured into a very nice horse and has put together a solid resume.  It seems odd to say that a horse who wins the Belmont, Travers, Jockey Club Gold Cup, & Breeders’ Cup Classic shouldn’t be Horse of the Year, but he shouldn’t.  There are 3 primary reasons why:

1. A Breeders Cup Classic win isn’t as significant as usual.  See above!

2. Summer Bird did absolutely nothing prior to the Belmont.  He was beaten 13 lengths in the Kentucky Derby and had only a Maiden win to his credit prior to the Belmont.  Should he win the BC Classic his record would be 9-5-1-1 with 4 Grade 1 victories.  Impressive but hardly exceptional.

3 – Most importantly, Rachel Alexandra blew Summer Bird away in the Haskell – beating him by 6.  Summer Bird has done nothing wrong, but his credentials with a win in the Classic certainly wouldn’t substantially exceed Rachel Alexandra’s – and in the face of otherwise similar accomplishments a decisive head-to-head win has to be the deciding factor.

ZENYATTA – I previously discussed her campaign and what a disservice her connections have done to her legacy by managing her so conservatively.  This is a horse whose campaign to date defines the concept of taking the path of least resistance.  She will run 5 times – all on synthetics – never leaving California, shying away from any matchups with Rachel Alexandra and never facing males until possibly the Classic.  Obviously if she doesn’t go in the Classic this is all a moot point, but even if she does it is definitely a case of too little too late.  All season long Zenyatta’s connections never looked for a challenge with their champion – and it wasn’t like they had to look very hard.  Having already proven that she was better than California’s older filly & mare contingent, there was no obvious reason to avoid races like the Hollywood Gold Cup or Pacific Classic.  Heck, even her stablemate Life Is Sweet who was on the same schedule at the time ran in the Hollywood Gold Cup.  NYRA desperately tried to arrange a meeting with Rachel Alexandra in the Beldame but her connections publicly shied away from that as well citing the value of the Breeders’ Cup as the meeting place for such an event.  That type of thinking cannot be rewarded.  The Breeders’ Cup is indeed the day to crown champions, but not at the expense of the entire rest of the year.

Bottom line is that even with a win in the Classic, Zenyatta would be 5-for-5 with 4 Grade 1 wins.  She’s had fewer wins than Rachel, fewer Grade 1 wins, and a far less impressive campaign overall.  Where Rachel Alexandra’s connections looked for challenges, Zenyatta’s connection avoided them.  From a public policy perspective you want to reward the connections who campaigned aggressively, not the ones who took the path of least resistance at every available turn.

Then there’s the head-to-head comparison.  If you look only at their races vs females, Rachel Alexandra is 5-for 5 while Zenyatta is 4-for-4.  Obviously Rachel faced inferior horses as a 3 yo filly, but she absolutely dominated her competition – winning races like the Kentucky Oaks and Mother Goose by 20 and 19 lengths.  Zenyatta meanwhile was life and death to beat Annaba’s Creation and won her races in a manner than was much more workmanlike than brilliant or fast.  Should she win this less-meaningful-than-usual Breeders’ Cup Classic it would certainly be an impressive accomplishment for Zenyatta’s legacy, but should that win really count more than a combination of wins in the Preakness, Haskell, and Woodward by a 3 year old filly?  Of course not.  At the end of the day Rachel’s campaign was simply better and more impressive in every way and is far more deserving of reward than Zenyatta’s.  Had Zenyatta run more than 5 times, thrown in a win on dirt or outside California, or another win against males, or shown interest in facing Rachel Alexandra when the powers that be were trying to set up the showdown, then maybe she’d have a case. But she didn’t.  Her connections never challenged her and at this point she’s trailing Rachel by a lot more ground than she could make up with a single Breeders’ Cup Classic victory – particularly one accomplished without beating her primary competition for the title.  Also keep in mind that if the racing season ended right now she wouldn’t even be # 2 in line and perhaps not even # 3 based on what she’s done to date.  It’s about accomplishments THIS YEAR, not reputation and legacy.

Normally the Breeders’ Cup Classic is the culmination of a year of major dirt races.  This year it is not.  It’s a watered-down event on a synthetic surface that plays closer to turf than dirt.  The championship dirt racing season in the US ended earlier this month for all intents and purposes…and at that finish line Rachel Alexandra is comfortably in front by any reasonable measure of comparison.

Rachel Alexandra is your 2009 Horse of the Year regardless of what happens in the Breeders’ Cup.


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Posted in Breeders' Cup, General Racing Discussion, Rachel Alexandra, Upcoming Races, Zenyatta.

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Just How Fast Was Sea The Stars?

I’ve written quite a bit about Sea The Stars recently, so hopefully you can tolerate one last post on…Sea The Stars!   I didn’t intend to write any further about him but today Thorograph put up Sea The Stars’ Thorograph sheet.  This allowed for some good comparisons between him and other recent champs as well as some good historical perspective.

For those who aren’t familiar with the sheets, they are “performance figures” which are essentially speed figures with adjustments for weight & ground loss along with some other items.  Thorograph & Ragozin are the competing brands.  Each horse has their career graphically represented on a “sheet” of paper in order to view patterns and form cycles.  They’re quite good and there’s a lot of work that goes into the numbers.

So here’s his Thorograph sheet:

Sea The Starts - Tgraph sheetpic

Sea The Stars was essentially running in the 0 to 2 range in his last several starts (the lower the number, the faster the race).

So how does that rank?

Well it’s good.  Championship quality.  But that’s about it.  Nothing different than what other elite turf horses have run recently.

For comparative purposes:

* Gio Ponti’s 3 previous #’s this year going into the Turf Classic were 0.5, -0.5, 0.25

* Conduit ran a 0.5 winning last year’s BC Turf

* Eagle Mountain ran a 0 running 2nd in last year’s turf

* Soldier of Fortune ran 1’s in his 3 starts in Europe last year before running a 2 in the Breeders Cup.

* English Channel ran a -0.25 winning the 2007 BC Turf with 2.5, 0.25, 1, 1 before that.  The previous year he ran 0, 1, 0.75, 0.75, 0.75. 0.75, 2.

* Dylan Thomas ran 3.25, 1, 2.25, 0, 0, 0.75, 1, 1.5, 2.25 working backward in 2007.

* Red Rocks ran a 0 winning the 2006 Breeders Cup Turf.

* Shirrocco ran a -0.5 winning the 2005 Breeders’ Cup Turf.

(all figures are from Thorograph)

Interesting?  I thought so!  Greatest ever?  Nah…


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Sea The Stars – Some Passing Thoughts

With the announcement today that the immortal Sea The Stars is being retired to stud, here’s a couple of quick thoughts:

* So See The Stars is done.  Great horse – no doubt – but as I covered here in a previous post I still don’t quite get why he’s greater than the “latest and greatest” to come out of Europe in several other recent years, let alone better than historical figures like Mill Reef or Sea-Bird in Europe or Secretariat and Man O’ War in the US, but apparently many people do.   It’s certainly not based on winning by open lengths, comparative margins of victory against the same horse, times, his thorograph figures, or his record.  But it appears there’s something else there that I’m missing because there are countless articles labeling him as such.  At least Steve Crist agrees with me.

* Here’s something else I don’t get.  Believe me, I understand economics as well as anyone, but if you have more money than you’ll ever need isn’t there a thrill to watching your horse continue to run if they’re regarded as one of the greatest horses to ever race?  I’m not saying to beat the horse into the ground, but wouldn’t you want to see him at 4 if he’s “fit and healthy” as John Oxx described him today?  Don’t people get into this game for the remote possibility of one day having a horse like this?  I presently own a small piece of several horses and watching them run in a maiden race is indescribably exciting.  I can’t even imagine what it would be like to own a true “great” or even a champion.  It just blows my mind that it’s so rare that someone ever says something like “You know what?  The horse is sound and feeling good and I don’t need the money and seeing him race is the most incredible feeling in the world so I’m going to bring him back next year.”   I understand the reasons for going to stud and the insurance considerations etc, but how does this  almost *never* happen these days?

I simply can’t imagine owning a champion, not needing or caring about money, and rushing to retire them prematurely.  And I don’t want to hear that there’s nothing else to prove.  There’s always more to prove – especially in a 9-race career that essentially lasted 6 months.  What about simply cementing a legend?  There’s coming back at 4 and dominating again.  There’s the Breeders’ Cup in the US.  There’s dirt in the US.  Say the horse were to come back next year and win 5 or 6 major races in Europe again, win the Arc for a second year in a row, and come over to the US and win the Breeders’ Cup Classic on dirt by 5 lengths…well then you’d truly have a legend.  You’d have a horse that ranks alongside Secretariat (justifiably) as one of the top 2 or 3 horses in racing history.  What about simply winning the Arc in back to back years and then becoming the only Arc winner to win the BC Turf (or any Breeders’ Cup race)?  There are any number of things that could be accomplished to further his greatness and historical ranking.

Disappointing.  But at least if history is a guide, at least we’ll have another greatest horse ever coming out of Europe to admire within a year or two.

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Short Big Brown!

Interesting video here on Yahoo Finance on the correlation between why Big Brown was a huge underlay in the Belmont Stakes and the mistakes investors make on Wall Street.

Not sure I agree with the reasons that led to his conclusion that Big Brown was such an underlay, but definitely a cool and usual spot for a racing analogy.

Thanks to my friend Jim for the link.

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All Surfaces Are NOT Equal

Any handicapper with half a brain knows that turf form and dirt form are two entirely different animals (pardon the pun).  Occasionally you’ll find a horse that possesses equal ability on both surfaces, but it’s rare.  Much more common is a horse who is significantly stronger on one surface than the other, yet recently with the introduction of synthetic surfaces, some people seem to be condemning poor efforts on synthetics with the absurd notion that “a good horse can run on anything.”  Clearly Cigar wasn’t a good horse!  This is purely nonsense of course but I see it over and over – particularly in reference to last year’s Breeders’ Cup where virtually every “main track” race was won by a horse with turf or previous synthetic experience.  With the Breeders’ Cup back at Santa Anita again, I’m sure we’ll be hearing more of the same.  It’s even been used against Rachel Alexandra as though she’s “ducking” Zenyatta – despite the fact that such a race would have absolutely no relevance to her dirt ability.

For anyone who still wants to press the case that “a good horse can run on anything,” the defense offers up Exhibits A, B, C, & D in the form of Fatal Bullet.

In 10 career starts on synthetics Fatal Bullet has a record of 8 wins and 2 seconds.   One of those losses was a second in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Santa Anita.    In his last 5 synthetic starts Fatal Bullet has run Beyers of 109-107-108-100-107.

In 2 career starts on dirt Fatal Bullet is 0 for 2 – having finished 6th and 8th, beaten a combined 34 3/4 lengths.  In those 2 starts he ran Beyer figures of 65 and 71 which would make him overmatched in many low level claiming races.


Last time out Fatal Bullet ran dead last in the Alfred G Vanderbilt at Saratoga beaten nearly 18 lengths running a Beyer figure of 65 without encountering any major trouble.  Entered back today in the Phoenix at Keeneland it figured to make for a excellent test.  Surely a horse coming off a 65 BSF would have a tough time beating veteran G3 sprinters who routinely run 100+ unless that performance was a total fluke.  Well…he did bounce back – beating Capt. Candyman Can (BSF’s of 103-105 in his 2 prior starts) by 1/2 length and likely reverting right back to that 105-110 BSF range.

Is it possible that a horse as consistent as Fatal Bullet happened to run 15 to 20 lengths slower in both of his dirt starts by pure random chance?  Well if you believe that then I very much look forward to seeing you on line next to me at the betting windows! 🙂

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Follow up: PP’s of Top Euros

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post I thought it would be interesting to include the PP’s of some of those recent European superstars:

Dancing Brave_Page_2




Pentiere - Montjeau - Hawk Win - Helissio - Old Vic_Page_1

Sea The stars-nashwan-generous-sinndar-laamtarra-dubai millenium_Page_1Sea The stars-nashwan-generous-sinndar-laamtarra-dubai millenium_Page_2

(All PP’s come from Daily Racing Form)

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Sea Some Perspective!

Check out this absurdity from Time Magazine:

Man o’War in the 1920s. Phar Lap in the ’30s. Secretariat in the ’70s. Dancing Brave in the ’80s. The debate over horse racing’s greatest ever flat runner has always been as contested as a Breeders’ Cup — and it just got hotter. Sea the Stars, an Irish-trained colt that darted to victory in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in Paris on Oct. 4, might just be the greatest of them all.

And there are plenty more like it. Do a search for “Sea The Stars” + “Greatest Ever” and you’ll find countless articles proclaiming Sea The Stars the best horse to ever race.

Look – he’s a superstar…no argument…but unequivocably the best ever? Better than Secretariat? Better than Man O’ War? Better than Mill Reef, Sea Bird, Ribot, Nijinsky, Alleged, & Dancing Brave? Based on what exactly?

His record isn’t superior to countless other top horses. He’s 8 for 9 – which is great – but hardly historically significant.

Certainly not his margins of victory. Sea The Stars has never won a race by more than 2 1/2 lengths. Margins of victory tend to be smaller in European grass races than in the US, but it’s hard to believe that the greatest horse in history was never more than 2 lengths better than his competition. Never. I’m not talking about winning by 31 like Secretariat did, or winning by 100 like Man O’War did, but not even once did he blow the doors off the competition and gallop away to even win by 6.

The nature and style of European racing makes speed figures (or any adjusted final time figures) a slightly less meaningful tool for measuring comparative ability than here in the US. Nevertheless, in assessing his figures Thorograph creator Jerry Brown recently wrote on his forum: “STS is a very good grass 3yo. Period (so far).” So he’s certainly not running significantly faster than any other horse in history.

Interestingly, Brown also goes on to say: “At 1 1/2 miles 8 pounds is worth 4 lengths. It’s not a coincidence that the greatest horse that ever lived this year is almost always a European 3yo– the scale of weights is different than here.

And yes, there certainly does seem to be a “latest and greatest ever” almost every single year in Europe. Just a year ago, Zarkava punctuated a perfect 7-for-7 career with a win in the ARC by 2 lengths over the same Youmzain that Sea The Stars just beat by 2. Why isn’t she the greatest ever? If Sea The Stars is the best ever and she had a better record, also won the ARC, and beat the same horse by the same margin then certainly she has to be close, no? How about some other recent European superstars:
* Dubai Millenium – 9 for 10. A 6 length winner of the Dubai World Cup on dirt and multiple G1 winner on turf including a 6 length win in the Queen Elizabeth and 8 length win in the Prince of Wales.
* Sinndar – 7 for 8 including wins in the Epsom Derby, Irish Derby (by 9) and Arc in 2:25 and change.
* Lammtarra – Just 4 for 4 but won the Epsom Derby off a 10 month layoff and won the Arc over Freedom Cry and Swain to end his career.
* Dalakhani – 8 for 9 just like Sea The stars. Won the French Derby & Arc.
* Peintre Celebre – 5 for 7 in 1997. Won the French Derby and concluded his career with a 5 length win over Pilsudski (BC Turf winner) in 2:24 3/5.
* Nashwan – Really considered a superstar in 1989 after winning the Epsom Derby by 5 and the Coral Eclipse by 5 until he lost his Arc prep and was retired.

It just seems like every year Europe is annointing a new superstar – and as Jerry Brown pointed out, it’s usually a 3 year old who is getting an advantageous weight break on their weight-for-age scale. Sea The Stars is a phenomenal horse and he’s made some historic achievements, but this “best horse ever” nonsense is just silly. Might he be one of the greats? Sure. But best ever? It’s cool to get caught up in the excitement of the moment but there’s nothing in his record, figures, accomplishments, or margins of victory that supports such a contention or establishes a clear level of superiority and dominance over some of the recent “greats,” let alone historical figures like Secretariat or Man O’ War or Dr Fager, or European legends Ribot, Mill Reef and Sea Bird.

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