These 3yo Aren’t a Bad Group, Just Another Slow One
Do we time this year’s Derby and Preakness with a stopwatch, or an hourglass?
In 2010, the combined winning times of the American Triple Crown classics equaled 391.6 seconds, which would have not been competitive in any of the past 5 decades, on average.
Meanwhile, in England the combined 2010 winning times of their triple crown series equaled 430.8 seconds, nearly 7 seconds faster than just the previous decade’s average times.
Those two trends are seemingly continuing as we arrive in early 2011.
Is this merely a blip, or a continuing trend of American horses slowing down while the Brits, at least, get faster? To the raw numbers, where you can draw your own conclusions:
*Times were rounded to the nearest tenth of a second, and averaged over an entire decade in order to control for weather and surface variations. There were no published times for the St. Leger until 1950. (Going through 50+ years of numbers for 6 different races became a blur – until stumbling upon Secretariat’s 144 second Belmont triumph, unbelievable and most likely never to be equaled on either continent, mercy.)
*Green figures are improvements over the previous numbers, red figures are instances were times did not improve. Black figures represent a number that is unchanged.
Since the 1950’s, American cumulative Triple Crown winning times have improved 2.9 seconds while the British equivalent has improved 8.4 seconds. Please note that the English classics as a group are 13% further than the American versions, which would account for a few tenths of a second in this finding. When that factor is backed out, English horses still have improved at a 263% greater rate over the past 60 years.
Don’t look to the next decade to reverse that trend, if anything it has increased significantly in the first complete year of racing on both continents in 2010, and 2011 thus far is not turning out for the better.
We all know the styles and surfaces differ between the two countries, I just did not expect the Euro turf runners to improve so much more given their deliberate race strategies and the occasional very wet and slow courses. More than a few times the St. Leger was 20 seconds slower than normal, yet I still counted these outliers – or the difference in US vs Euro trends would have been more pronounced.
I’m not going to regurgitate my admittedly biased reasoning as to why this is happening. My angle is the conditioning angle, or lack thereof. You can re-read more of these types of thoughts here from myself and others: https://thoroedge.wordpress.com/2010/11/29/triple-crown-times-have-not-improved-in-70-years-why/
Many quotes in that above link originate from the Eclipse Award winning article entitled “Do We Need a Sturdier Racehorse?” by Mr. Bill Finley of the Thoroughbred Daily News, which I was honored to be quoted within.
Curiously, it is only American thoroughbreds that are slowing down in this country, as our standardbreds are doing just fine as indicated in this earlier post: https://thoroedge.wordpress.com/2010/09/08/what-can-thoroughbred-trainers-learn-from-standardbred-conditioners/
I am well aware of all the objections to this overall concept, so let’s tackle the main argument put forth by the handicappers camp: that tracks are systematically being slowed down by the ground crews in order to protect faster horses. Butch Lehr at Churchill disagrees:
At least one well informed source begs to differ, the track superintendent at Churchill Downs, who has been employed there for 38 years, says that the Churchill strip is no different than it was when he started.
“As far as making tracks deeper now as compared to 20 years ago, I don’t necessarily believe that, If anything, it’s the opposite. I’ve been here a long time and, at Churchill, we haven’t done anything to change the track.”
Over the next few months and years we will witness in public the argument that our raceday drug allowances are either good or bad for the breed. It’s well known that all European countries don’t permit such medications – but they race on turf through a first half in :52 or slower while our stars go through a dirt half in :46 quite often. You simply cannot compare the two scenarios with respect to the forces that they exert on the equine skeleton and soft tissues of the lungs.
That being said, I still submit that our raceday drugs are not helping our horses perform to their optimal level. OK, let’s forget Great Britain – what about another European country, like France? Turf courses and no drugs, but are their horses faster now than in 1950? Yes:
So when you read back to my previous posts where I attempted to handicap the Derby and Preakness, and failed miserably, keep in mind I only have a very few instances to choose from where a trainer practices more than the ‘4F breeze every 7 days’ routine. The odds are very much stacked against me. This method of conditioning in 2010 gave us a Triple Crown season in which no colt was able to start in all 3 races, so here’s hoping Animal Kingdom and Shakleford make it to NY next month.
Sure, the scorecard now is 2-0 in favor of the ‘less is more’ philosophy of conditioning in this Triple Crown season – but Animal Kingdom and Shakleford are still turning out performances inferior to those over the past 5 decades of American racing.
Despite improved veterinary care and breeding the ‘best to the best’ over 1 million times, we still have no better equine athletes in 2011 than in 1950, but other countries apparently do not have this problem.