Wednesday, February 18, 2009

So Far, So Good

In most years a lot of discussion about the Derby trail is linked with the Beyer Speed Figures earned by the entrants. Speed is an undeniably important part of winning any race. The winner virtually always comes from one of the 4 or 5 fastest horses on paper.

There is always conjecture about what kind of figure it will take to win the Derby. I've said it many times and I'll say it again. Arbitrary numbers like 108 or 105 aren't good lines to draw in the sand because each horse only needs to beat the ones they're facing. If no horse in the race can run a 108 then the winner will likely win with a figure lower than 108. Always look at averages instead of single arbitrary figures.

Lately races like the Derby and it's preps seem to be earning lower and lower figures with each passing year. At one point in past years it was not unusual to see 5 or 6 horses in the race with 108+ figures. In the last 3 years we've seen only 6 horses total who have earned a 108+ Beyer Speed figure prior to the Derby. Bob Black Jack didn't even earn his 109 in a route race.

The crop this year actually looks pretty fast compared to recent years so perhaps we'll see a return to speed like that. Here are the average winning Beyer figures received for every route prep race run in January and February for the last five years.

2009 - 92.25
2008 - 90.61
2007 - 91.86
2006 - 96
2005 - 90.92

As you can see the Jan-Feb preps run this year have been faster on average than most of the recent years. 2006, the year of Barbaro, Brother Derek, Sweetnorthernsaint and Lawyer Ron, is the only season that is proving to be faster at this stage. This is definitely the fastest season of the synthetic track era.

Is it worrisome that only two horses, General Quarters and Old Fashioned, have ever earned a triple digit Beyer Figure going two turns? Not really, in the last five years there have been 64 separate performances by Derby entrants that have received 100+ Beyer Figures (two turn races only) and only 15 of them were achieved by this point in the season. These figures include two year old racing as well.

The vast, VAST majority of time big performances by Derby entrants come in March and April. A horses last two starts before the Derby are the only ones that really matter. Everything else just serves to get them to that point. So for this crop I'd say don't worry about Old Fashioned's latest low figure or the fact that Friesan Fire has been good but not brilliant. It's so far, so good and the really good ones will prove themselves in their next two starts.

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