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  • 2010 Breeders Cup - Juveniles

       October 21, 2010

    (see all of our 2010 Breeders Cup articles)

    The Breeders Cup offers dirt & turf races for both two-year old colts and fillies. Turf races are at a flat mile while the dirt races are 1 1/6 miles. With a full field, outside post positions in the dirt races can spell doom because of the short run into the first turn, so these are definitely races you don't want to fully handicap until post positions are drawn.

    Beyond post position, to me, some of the keys to understanding the juvenile races are:

    • The races are run around two turns, while typically horses that have prepped in New York have only ever run around one turn. This might not seem like a big deal, but it is. While some horses adjust to two-turn races just fine, others don't. My personal rule of thumb is to beware of horses who come from behind in one-turn races but have sprinter's pedigrees.
    • Experience does count for something. Last year, I liked Eskendereya in the Juvenile off of a nice race in New York. In the Breeders Cup he ran into a lot of trouble and finished up the track. Lookin At Lucky, on the other hand, had run a number of tougher races prior to the Breeders Cup. When he ran into his usual bad luck in the Juvenile, he responded with an excellent 2nd place finish. Flash forward to this spring and Eskendereya was the hottest thing on four hooves. It wasn't just that he got better since the Juvenile, it's that that tough race probably helped him figure out what racing was all about. So, give some bonus points to colts or fillies that have experienced some adversity.
    • Do stop thinking about tomorrow. Don't worry about whether your Juvenile pick is a Derby horse. It's irrelevant to whether he'll win on Breeders Cup day. Only one horse, Street Sense, has captured both the Juvenile and the Kentucky Derby.
    • At Churchill Downs, I'm slightly more interested in two-year olds that come from behind. There have been front-running winners of the juvenile races at Churchill Downs, but it's such a long stretch that I want to give a little more consideration to the plodders, just like I would for the Derby or Oaks.

    One thing that I absolutely don't pay attention to when it comes to the Juvenile or Juvenile Fillies are Beyer Speed Figures. I just don't think they're that accurate or relevant for young horses. To explain why, I'm going to use this year's likely Juvenile favorite, Uncle Mo, as an example.

    Uncle Mo has raced twice in his young career. He won a 6 furlong maiden race at Saratoga by 14 1/2 lengths, earning a stellar 102 Beyer. He followed that up with a win in the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes, running a mile in a fantastic 1.34.51, but only earned a 94 speed figure. So, is Uncle Mo a budding superstar or is he a talented colt who is getting worse as the distances get longer? November 6 will tell, but in the meantime, I think his figures illustrate two problems with Beyer Speed Figures.

    First, and even people who think the figures themselves are accurate will agree with this, you can't just look at Beyers in a vacuum. It's not just about the figure, it's about how that figure was earned. A horse who gets loose on an easy lead will relax and be able to produce a high number. Likewise, a closer who closes into a fast pace will also earn a big number (note - this is one of the reasons Zenyatta's Beyers are slow - she never gets a fast pace to run at). These horses may only be able to reproduce those efforts if they once again have everything in a race go their way.

    In Uncle Mo's Champagne Stakes, on the other hand, "Mo", was prodded through fast early fractions and not only hung on to win, but extended his advantage. No matter what the final number was, you should be impressed by a young colt who was able to outsprint the sprinters and outstay the stayers. Uncle Mo had everything against him, but was still able to win easily. Who knows what he could do under more optimal conditions?

    The second issue with Beyers is in the very way they're calculated - which is basically a measurement of the final time against a measurement of how fast the track is playing on a given day. The final time is objective, but the track variant is very subjective. What tends to happen is that figures are made based on what horses are "supposed" to run. It's kind of like pre-season college football polls. A horse like Uncle Mo can't, in some cases, get a figure they might deserve because in doing so other horses would get figures they "shouldn't" be able to run. Here's a good explanation:

    "For better or for worse, part of what Beyer and his associates attempt to do with their speed figures is have them make sense. Mathematically speaking, its almost like an unstructured form of linear regression, whereby disparate data points, i.e. individual speed figures, are smoothed out. This in my opinion makes the figure more reliable overall, but less reliable in specific instances.

    Saturday's Belmont card was one of those "specific instances," I'm afraid. To begin there were only two dirt route races to consider on Saturday: The Champagne and the Frizette, both for two year olds -an age that often produces overnight improvement. However here's (I think) what the Beyer folk are thinking:


    A Z Warrior (77 previous Beyer high)
    *R Heat Lightning (76)
    Joyful Victory (77)


    Uncle Mo (102)
    *Mountain Town (61)
    I'm Stepin' Up (74)

    *Key horses in my opinion. R Heat Lightning recorded Beyers of 76, 76, 74 in her three lifetime starts, making her Frizette number a benchmark of sorts, while Mountain Town's BFS was so poor that, should he finish well, which he did, it casts doubt (rightly or wrongly) on the quality of the race.

    Now, the spread of 13 points between the two races is a constant based on the race times, so if Beyer gives Uncle Mo, say a 102 again, that means A Z Warrior gets an 89 and R Heat Lightning gets and 86 -significantly better than anything she's earned before. That with what would amount to a 93 figure for Mountain Town, is why I believe the race was deemed to be slower.

    So the gist of it is to take Beyer Speed Figures with a giant grain of salt. They're one tool in a handicapper's arsenal, but don't let a number take away from what you see with your own eyes, especially when it comes to young horses.

    Posted by kris at October 21, 2010 12:00 PM

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