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"She's So Heavy, Heavy, Heavy"

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LOUISVILLE, KY - APRIL 30:  Rafael Bejarano atop Blind Luck celebrates after winning the 136th running of the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs on April 30, 2010 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
LOUISVILLE, KY - APRIL 30: Rafael Bejarano atop Blind Luck celebrates after winning the 136th running of the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs on April 30, 2010 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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I'm back from the wasteland of a computer-less world as a new hard drive and re-installation of all my programs and documents has made things right.  Thankfully, I had my data backed-up pretty well so it wasn't a total disaster.

I had planned on a big Del Mar and Saratoga preview but I'll probably have something more on the lighter side since I've been unable to do too much heavy lifting the last few days.

Speaking of "heavy" lifting, the Beatles reference in the title of this post relates to the outcome of last Saturday's thrilling battle between Havre de Grace and Blind Luck in the Delaware Handicap.  As you may have read in the aftermath, Havre de Grace's trainer Larry Jones was upset at the fact that his filly had to carry two pounds more than Blind Luck in Saturday's race where Havre de Grace lost by a nose at the wire.

From the race re-cap in the DRF:

Larry Jones, the trainer of Havre de Grace, had said before the race that the felt the two-pound spread was worth about 1 1/4 lengths going 1 1/4 miles. Afterwards, Jones was clearly upset the weights were not equal.

"Tell me two pounds does not make a difference," Jones said. "She won six Grade 1's versus our one and we are the highweight. That makes a lot of sense. I probably should not have run."

I've always liked Larry Jones, and I'm sure a lot of what he said was heat-of-the-moment kind of stuff, but I really can't believe that the additional two pounds Havre de Grace carried was the difference in the race. And even if it was, it's impossible to provide evidence to that fact. It's also disappointing to read that a two pound weight difference was almost enough to prevent to excellent horses from meeting each other on the track. Larry Jones isn't alone in that position; Blind Luck's trainer Jerry Hollendorfer threatened to not run his filly in the DelCap if she didn't get a weight allowance.

Weight is a handicapping topic that doesn't get a ton of treatment these days, and for good reason: horses rarely carry significant weights in the U.S. and handicaps rarely see large disparities between rivals in a specific race. The small weight differences we see today is incredibly hard to quantify or qualify in handicapping terms and, for the most part, the days of true "handicap" racing has gone the way of the Dodo.  

Thoroughbred horses weigh in the neighborhood of 1,000 to 1,200 pounds. A two pounds addition between two animals that are the same weight is equivalent to 0.18% of a horse's total weight (if we're talking about a 1,100 pound horse); it's hard to see how a difference that minuscule that made the ultimate difference in performance.  I suppose when a horse loses ( or wins) by an incredibly small margin we want to believe the difference is the result of some perceived element.  Whether it's a wide trip, pace, traffic issues or weight, players are looking for the "why" in the results as much as the "who".  And certainly trainers are no difference. 

The trouble with the issue of weight  in comparison to other elements (trip, pace) is that the impact is, in my opinion, almost impossible to measure given today's microscopic differences.  If John Henry is carrying 20 or 30 pounds more than the horse that noses him out at the wire,

and I can't find any evidence that a 0.18% difference in weight (or something along those lines) is worth 1 1/4 lengths over ten furlongs.

I've got an iPad sitting next to me on my desk this morning.  It weighs approximately 1.5 pounds, a little less than the weight difference between Blind Luck and Havre de Grace on Saturday.  I weigh around 155 to 160 pounds - depending on my beer in take during the week - making that iPad approximately 1% of my weight, which is much more significant than the impact of the weight difference in the DelCap.  I suppose if I raced my friend around my block three times, and the entire time I carried the iPad and he didn't, I would have an edge over him. But it would be awfully hard to determine what that edge is with any accuracy.

There have been many "rules of thumb" with regards to weight over the years but at the end of the day it's simply a guess as to how much (or how little) weight affects the outcome of a horse race. As Mike Watchmaker pointed out at the DRF this week (The Blind Luck - Havre de Grace Rivalry), Blind Luck faced some disadvantages in the DelCap due to both the pace (which was probably a little faster than many expected, but not as fast as a lot of closers would prefer) and running style. Perhaps more important than the weight in the outcome was the ride by Garret Gomez, a ride that kept Blind Luck in striking distance down the backstretch rather than falling too far back early (as has been known to happen with this filly in prior races).  Blind Luck didn't have a lot of work to do in the stretch, which gave her time to wear down the always classy and game Havre de Grace.

For reference, below are all of the races where Blind Luck and Havre de Grace have raced against each other, along with the weight carried and the margin that separated them.

Blind Luck Havre de Grace
Date Track Weight Finish Margin Weight Finish Margin
7/16/2011 DEL 10 122 1 Nose 124 2
3/19/2011 OP 9 115 2 115 1 3 1/4
11/5/2010 CD 10 122 2 1 122 3
10/2/2010 PHA 10 124 2 114 1 Neck
8/21/2010 SAR 10 121 1 Neck 121 2
7/10/2010 DEL 9 122 1 Nose 116 2

 

We've got a decent amount of races to look at since these two fillies have squared off six times over the last two years.  Blind Luck has finished ahead of Havre de Grace four times in their six meetings, including the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic where she was second the Unrivaled Belle but a length ahead of Havre de Grace.  It's tough to glean any kind of meaningful conclusion of the impact of weight from their six previous races.  Havre de Grace won easily at Oaklawn where they both carried 115.  At the Breeders' Cup, Blind Luck was a length better when each carried 122.  Blind Luck carried ten pounds more at Philadelphia/Parx last October, where she lost by a neck to Havre de Grace.  Before that, they carried equal weight when Blind Luck won by a neck at Saratoga, and Havre de Grace enjoyed a six pound advantage when losing by a nose at Delaware last July.

Four times Blind Luck and Havre de Grace have finished within a neck or less of one another, and the weight disparity between the two ranged from Blind Luck carrying ten pounds more to Havre de Grace carrying two pounds more.

I suppose the two pounds could make a difference of a nose at the wire. But when you have two different horses, with different running styles, different jockeys, and different trainers, do we really believe that a minuscule percentage difference in weight was significant factor in the result?  And when you factor in their history of close races, both with and without weight disparities, the significance of the two pound difference is tenuous, at best.

In the aftermath of the DelCap, the connections of both fillies are pointing towards Saratoga as the destination for their next starts.  Blind Luck will likely go in the Grade 1 Personal Ensign at ten furlongs on August 28th, while Havre de Grace is apparently a candidate to take on the males in the Grade 1 Woodward on September 3rd.  The Woodward is run at nine furlongs.