Tuesday, May 05, 2009

What On Earth Happened?

Horse racing is one of the most difficult games on earth to figure out. Week after week you break down races and play the probability that certain elements of past form will translate into future success. Most of time you either win or are beaten by a horse that you could have made a case for.

Longshots have won the Derby before. There was Giacomo, Charismatic, Thunder Gulch, War Emblem and even Sea Hero. None of them were without weaknesses but upon reflection there were some positive points to pick out. Not every handicapper feels as if their mind was blown and their world was shaken because they can explain the performance somewhat retroactively.

I don't see any of this being true this year. Mine That Bird truly came out of nowhere and there were virtually no clues about this ability beforehand. He was not the longest shot on the board, Join In The Dance and Atomic Rain both started at longer odds and I could have rationalized a win by either of them but even looking back there is nothing about Mine That Bird to like.

The only positive angle that I came up with on this horse is the somewhat cheeky anti-Dosage angle. I've mentioned it several times in this space that I think Dosage is overrated and useless as a predictive factor. From 1996 to the present there has been just 27 horses that ran in the Derby than did not have a Dosage index of less than 4.00. So virtually 18 of the 20 starters each year can apparently win according to the Dosage theory. A blind cat could randomly toss two horses each year and still usually have the winner. The interesting thing about the anti Dosage angle is that it has actually been extremely profitable to play. 27 horses and 4 winners in the last 14 runnings including Mine That Bird, Giacomo, Charismatic and Real Quiet. That's the three longest priced winners of the last two decades! If you're going for a longshot make sure you check out the anti-dosage angle.

Realistically I don't think this breakout performance will ever by fully explained. We want to find complicated reasons why it may have happened but he simply ran faster than everyone else that day. The morning of the Derby, once I Want Revenge had scratched, I wrote a quick post about how I thought the complexion of the Derby had changed. My conclusion was that when you remove all the fast horses from a race it becomes a weak race and it opens up to everyone. I think that was more or less what happened. Quality Road, I Want Revenge, Win Willy and even horses like Old Fashioned and The Pamplemousse would have made this race faster. Slow horses win less often when in the presence of fast horses.

Aside from Mine That Bird being 6 lengths ahead of everyone else I thought the Derby was pretty formful. There was a tight three horse finish for second place between three contenders that made a lot of sense. Although Mine That Bird was the worst ranked winner on record according to the 20-20 system I don't think the year was a complete loss for the statistical profile. Mine That Bird was simply an anomaly and no statistical system would ever pick up a winner like that. However if you took him out of the equation the 20-20 system would have had the top four finishers among it's top six contenders. So although it was not a great year for stats and profiles I think there is still cause to be optimistic about the project as a whole.

No explanation will ever be fully sufficient in my mind other than recognizing that sometimes things just happen in racing and one horse is faster than all the others on that day. Thankfully we don't have to deal with out of the blue winners like this too often in our high profile races. I see a response from a lot of people that goes something like this "Speed figures are useless" "Experts know nothing" "Throw out the form and just pick who you like". I don't think any of those are intelligent responses. Picking winners is all about probability and even good handicappers are wrong 70% of the time. This race was one of those 7 out of 10. It's no reason for a change of approach, just a recognition of the oxymoron that anomalies are common in racing.

1 comment:

race said...

Kennedy---Exactly, Just what we (and Zito say's), that's why they run the race---slow overall time, but the last fraction's were very, very, fast---as you said, when the top dog's (fast horses), leave the race, anything can happen. I do hope he does well though, it would be good to see him bring people back to Horse Racing, it even only to see a Horse no one could have predicted---r