JC / Railbird

The Consensus and the Contrarian

A week before the Preakness Stakes, the Baltimore Sun considers the question of why modern-day contenders in Triple Crown races may be slower than past generations. Thoro-Graph founder Jerry Brown disagrees that they are:

Brown’s studies have found that track surfaces are significantly different than they were in the 1970s, with as much as an inch more cushioning and more sand as opposed to hardened clay.

“It’s like they’re running in a sandbox,” he said of contemporary racehorses.

Accounting for this difference, Brown concludes that many of the most impressive runs in Triple Crown and other races have come in recent years.

In Brown’s view, if Orb could be sent back to the 1970s, “the colt would likely be 8-10 lengths faster than Triple Crown competitors from that era.”

One theory, glancingly mentioned in the Sun piece, is that elite 3-year-olds might be slower because they’re underworked, but the work patterns of recent Kentucky Derby winners don’t suggest that’s a major factor, at least, not when looking for a correlation with Beyer speed figures. Orb (104) worked 12 times at an average distance of four furlongs between the start of the year and the Kentucky Derby; 2012 Derby winner I’ll Have Another (101) worked 11 times at an average distance of 6.25 furlongs. While Orb and IHA are outliers in distance, they’re not in number of works, which, going back to 1998, ranged from seven (Animal Kingdom, 2011; Big Brown, 2008; Smarty Jones, 2004) to 14 (Street Sense, 2007; Giacomo, 2005; Funny Cide, 2003; Real Quiet, 1998). The average distance for all was five furlongs. The highest Beyer in the period covered went to Monarchos (116), who had four prep races and nine works at an average distance of 4.75 furlongs. The lowest went to Giacomo (100), who had three prep races and 14 works at an average distance of 5.5 furlongs.