Thursday, October 01, 2009

Rating Performance Rates

I'm expecting the entries to be drawn for Belmont's Saturday card any time now but while we wait to get a glance at the Past Performances I thought I'd fill up my time by posing a question that has perplexed me for many months.

Just what is the point of "Performance Rates"?

Most people have no idea what I'm talking about because despite the fact that Performance Rates have been around for a few years they get very little publicity. Thoroughbred Times actually features a link to them on their main page. Which you'd think would be exposure enough to have them more widely known. They were also developed by the Jockey Club, you have to think there is some clout there.

The basic premise of Performance Rates is clearly stated in the paragraph below that can be found by visiting Thoroughbred Times.

"Performance Rates are an objective measurement of racetrack performance developed by the Jockey Club Information Systems. Performance Rates assign a rate to horses based upon beaten lengths - who beat whom and by how much - with some adjustments made to standardize beaten distances to account for horses that are not pressed or eased in large fields. Time is not a factor in Performance Rates, which are based on every start by every horse in North America. Performance Rates are expressed in lengths around a theoretical mean of zero. The average Performance Rates of the best horses in a given year are generally about 30 lengths better than an average performance of the average horse."

Sounds good, a system created to tell us how much better certain horses are than the average, but what do Performance Rates look like in reality. Here are the current standings for 2009.

Overall Top 10
Rachel Alexandra - 39.33
Icon Project - 32.03
Mine That Bird - 31.14
Mr. Fantasy - 31.06
Munnings - 30.97
Dunkirk - 30.57
Quality Road - 30.54
Old Fashioned - 29.89
Musket Man - 29.81
Summer Bird - 29.30

Top 5 Older Males
Unbridled's Heart - 25.72
To Tell The Truth - 25.01
Tizway - 23.60
Macho Again - 23.30
Jen's Revenge - 23.26

Top 5 Turf Horses
Take the Points - 23.96
Better Talk Now - 22.72
Grand Couturier - 22.44
Gio Ponti - 22.07
Brass Hat - 21.97

I could go on listing all the divisions but if you know anything about horse racing then you're probably asking the same question as me. Why do rankings this horrendous even exist and furthermore why does a major racing publication promote them?

We are talking about a system so useful that even it's creators make no mention of it on their own website (Jockey Club Information Systems).

I'm sure the Darley Stable would be thrilled to learn that they in fact have the best older horse in the nation! Unbridled's Heart is win-less in three allowance starts this year but apparently that's all it takes. Maybe this will encourage them to retire him, you know, now that he has nothing left to prove.

I actually tried to reverse engineer these numbers to come up with an explanation for the erroneous results. No luck, these numbers seem to have little rhyme or reason.

Most of you will know that I actually do support the creation of point systems that help us quantify racing. I think it's a major hole in our industry. We can't easily point to any guide that allows us to quickly get a feel for the major players in each division. Performance Rates, however, are not the answer to this dilemma and they get an "F" and they should also be removed from cyberspace immediately.

The more you look at them the more you realize why no one else has ever mentioned them. Some things are best forgotten. In fact I apologize for bringing them to your attention.

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