Thursday, June 18, 2009

Speed On Weeds

There has been quite a few good posts lately that have been asking the question "Where are all the good horses?" The older horse division appears to be in shambles. Horses like Macho Again, It's a Bird and Einstein are a mere shadow of Skip Away, Formal Gold and Will's Way. The weakness encompasses more than just the G-1 level main track older males.

I had been recently considering the Breeders' Cup grass races and it caught my notice that through the 90's both the Turf and the Mile were won by Americans and Europeans at a roughly equal weight. However in this decade the Mile has been dominated by Americans and the Turf has been dominated by Europeans.

I set about looking for explanations and one thing I noticed is the real drop off in the quality of the G-1 races for older males on the grass that are run at 10f or more. I focused on 7 major North American Turf stakes (Manhattan, Whittingham, Arlington Million, Sword Dancer, Man O'War, United Nations and Turf Classic) and it has become somewhat obvious that the quality in those races is going downhill as evidenced by the Beyer it takes to win them. Here is a year by year breakdown of the average winning Beyer for those 7 races over the last decade.

1999 - 107.17
2000 - 107.14
2001 - 110.57
2002 - 108.86
2003 - 107.86
2004 - 109.00
2005 - 106.86
2006 - 107.29
2007 - 105.00
2008 - 104.43

The overall average for these 7 races in the last decade is 107.42 and all the last 4 years have been lower than that average. If you break it down race by race only 6 races from 21 in the last 3 years have earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 108 or more.

In the last 5 years there has been has been 4 occasions where a horse has earned a 110 or more in one of those 7 stakes races. In the 5 years prior, so the first half of the decade in question, a horse earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 110 or more 12 times. That's three times as many in the same period of time.

Of course we still have horses that win those races every year, someone has to, but it appears as though our horses are no longer as effective going long as they once were. Europeans on the other hand are still as strong as ever at the extended distances. Thus it seems to logically follow that we're getting worse in the Breeders' Cup Turf while the Europeans are getting better.

As for the Breeders' Cup Mile the Beyer Figures from key races seem to indicate that the milers aren't any slower or faster. The average Beyer from key mile races is 106.88. The first half of the decade average is 106.90 and the second half average is 106.87. There has been no perceptible change in the speed of out milers over this last decade. I can't make an educated comment on whether or not the Europeans have gotten slower as time has progressed but the American success rate has certainly gotten better.

It is interesting though that at the sprinter level Australian and now American horses have had good success against Europeans in Europe. I wouldn't necessarily become too focused on the fact because one horse can defy the trend but it's probably wise to remember that our classic distance turf division seems to be getting worse each year. Meanwhile our milers can more than hold their own.

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