by Brett Sturman
Last week the U.S. Trotting Association announced that, effective immediately, the fastest beaten times of horses would be included as part of their pedigrees as seen in the sales catalogues. Previously, only the times that a horse obtained while winning a race at various ages were included as part of the horse’s formal record, but now its fastest career non-winning “race-time” will be shown as well.
Noted as a “BT” in the pedigree alongside the standard career marks, it’s a wildly misleading designation. Presumably the race-time has been included as a way to enhance a horse’s resume in order to fetch higher prices at sale, but there are issues with it.
I’ve always been fascinated by a phenomenon in harness racing that gets captured in the influential thoroughbred handicapping book, Beyer On Speed. Written by Andrew Beyer and in the context of evaluating horses being outrun, he quotes “Harness handicappers maintain, correctly, that standardbreds can be ‘sucked along’ to a fast time: an animal incapable of pacing a mile in 1:56 under normal circumstances can do it if he is in a field of champs who are going in 1:52.”
The physics of it aside, it’s impossible to deny the merit of the theory.
As the most obvious example to support the theory, one only has to look to the fastest pacing mile of all-time. In the 2016 Allerage Farms Championship Series Open, Always B Miki obliterated the former world record of 1:46.4 held by Somebeachsomewhere and others and lowered it all the way down to 1:46 flat. That race was a 5-horse field, and in the process all except one horse from that race paced in 1:46.4 or better. Shamballa sat a pocket trip behind Always B Miki and was race-timed in 1:46.1, while All Bets Off and Split The House did their best to follow along and were race-timed in 1:46.2 and 1:46.4, respectively.
Does anyone really think that all of these horses on their own could have woken up on the same day and all of the sudden all beaten the 1:46:4 world record? Of course not. Without Always B Miki leading the way, there is no way that these horses could have all paced close to 1:46 flat miles. But with the new beaten time enhancement, these 1:46 times certainly will stand out more than their own winning times in the 1:47-1:48 range which still is far from shabby, but is more commonplace than a near all-time mark.
You don’t need necessarily need to go to world record mile either to observe this type of occurrence. It happens literally every single night at tracks like Pocono. At the lightning five-eighths oval, horses routinely pace fast looking miles by saving ground and making no moves to be beaten a couple of lengths in a 1:50 type of mile. Then a week later they go to Chester and are up the track in 1:53.
But for purposes of a beaten-time, all of these horses will end up something such as 1:51.1 even though it’s not a time they could have accomplished on their own. If it were reflective of their own ability, then they would have won the race in that time.
Handicappers know this and the odds for horses are based accordingly, so how is the information useful from a sales standpoint?
Due to the extraordinarily fast strip this past Saturday on Pace night, the Meadowlands served as a gold mine for horses to improve their beaten time record. In a number of races horses ended up with ridiculously fast beaten-time records due almost solely to the good fortune of being race participants against very fast horses on a very fast night.
In Race 2’s Miss Versatility, longshot Ice Attraction started from the rail and was able to follow Hannelore Hanover all the way around the track to lose by just a half-length. She’ll get the same beaten time as Hannelore’s winning time of 1:50.2, which would smash Ice Attraction’s own career best win time of 1:52.4. In fact, and you could say by the dumb luck of being involved in the fast race, every single horse that participated in this race ended up with a beaten time that exceeded their fastest ever win time, some by over two full seconds.
In the very next race 23 minutes later, one of the leading Hambletonian Oaks contenders Phaetosive won in 1:51.3. But second-place finisher was Perfect Summer K, who giving credit where it’s due, ran an inexplicably impressive race at odds of 137-1. Perfect Summer K followed the winning move of Phaetosive to only lose by 2 and 3/4 lengths, and in the process established a new beaten time record of 1:52.1 even though her career mark is just 1:56.3 from last year and her 3-year-old mark from this year is just 1:58.4. Her races prior at Pocono and Tioga were in the 1:56 range. Is some crazy anomaly of race-time a way that we should be measuring the quality of a horse as part of their pedigree?
Again, in the 12th race later in the card, Plunge Blue Chip edged Manchego in a world record 1:49.4. Every filly in this race except for the one beaten by 36 lengths will pick up a beaten-time that they’ll probably never come close to actually winning a race in for the rest of their careers. The beaten-time addition is something that looks nice for sellers as a means to lure buyers, but it’s not necessarily reflective of the merit of a horse.
While on the subject
If there’s going to be any tweaking to the way horses are displayed in sales catalogues, can we look at changing part of the criteria for horses appearing in BOLD FACE CAPITALS? As long as a horse has a mark in 2:00, they will appear in bold face capitals. The problem is, this encompasses almost every single horse in racing today. At minimum, this should be lowered to 1:55 and you could argue that it should be even lower than that for pacers. There should be a way to differentiate between stakes-caliber horses or horses with sufficient lifetime earnings, compared to a horse in bold face capitals simply because of a record of p.3,2:00h ($18,460).