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Weekend Review: Figs and Variants (UPDATE)

Del Mar and Saratoga dominated the graded stakes calendar this past weekend, with seven graded events between them.  Sean Avery's win in the Vanderbilt was the top performance in terms of the Beyer numbers at the Daily Racing Form.  The Brisnet figures will likely be posted in the next day or so for comparison purposes.

Race Track Dist. Winner Time BSF
G1-Hirsch DMR 8.5 (P) Ultra Blend 1:42.28 94
G1-Test SAR 7.0 (D) Turbulent Descent 1:24.17 103
G1-Vanderbilt SAR 6.0 (D) Sean Avery 1:09/71 112
G1-Whitney SAR 9.0 (D) Tizway 1:52.43 111
G2-Best Pal DMR 6.5 (P) Creative Cause 1:15.62 88
G2-Honorable Miss SAR 6.0 (D) Tar Heel Mom 1:10.42 101
G2-West Virignia Derby MNR 9.0 (D) Prayer for Relief 1:50.68 98
G3-Seagram Cup WO 8.5 (P) James Street 1:44.01 92
G3-Sorrento DMR 6.5 (P) Mighty Caroline 1:16.75 72
Birdstone SAR 9.0 (D) Rule 1:50.60 104
Morrissey SAR 6.5 (D) Ibboyee 1:17.00 96
Select Stakes MTH 6.0 (D) Chipshot 1:08.72 100


It appears a split vairant was likely used to calculate the speed Beyer figures for Saturday's card given a rudimentary comparison of the times to a basic theoretical speed rating chart. Below is a high-level look at the card, the raw times, the par value (as published by the Daily Racing Form), the raw speed figure (based on the theoretical two-turn rating chart from Beyer's The Winning Horseplayer), and the par/raw figure difference.

Race Cond. Dist. Time Final Split
Par Raw BSF Diff Adj. BSF
3 MdSpWt, 2yo 6.5 1:17.02 31.67 77 90 -13 98
5 MdSpWt, 3up 7.0 1:24.53 13.50 90 86 4 85
6 $50k MdClm, 2yo, NY 5.5 1:06.41 43.22 n/a 64 64
9 G1-Test 7.0 1:24.17 13.73 95 91 4 103
10 G1-Whitney 9.0 1:52.43 13.11 108 82 26 111


Comparing the raw figures from the theoretical rating charts to the par values suggests a somewhat slow track, but not slow enough to warrant the incredible figure adjustment that the Whitney received. Based on this rough analysis: race three was fast by an estimated 13 points, races five and nine were four points slow, and the Whitney was a whopping 26 points slow.  I suppose the track could have slowed dramatically between race nine and ten, but I'm not sure how that's anything more than a guess. I think it's also likely that the Whitney was simply slow, irregardless of track condition.

My take: that 111 is too high, probably by 10 points or so.  The track was likely slow that day (the final splits for all of the dirt races suggest a tiring track) but how slow is a debatable based on the times.

Perhaps the figure makers applied a variant for the one-turn races and another for the Whitney, something that reportedly isn't done very often.  I'm not sure we have enough information to suggest that the track was considerably slower going a route of ground than it was for sprints. One race is an awfully small sample size.  If anything, based on what we've seen most of the year, it's seems more likely that the Whitney, and the older males that comprised it's field, just aren't as fast as prior years.

I'm curious to compare the Brisnet figures for the same Saratoga card to see if they treated the races in the same manner as the Beyer figures.


I forgot to add one key piece to the adjustment in the Whitney figure and that's the use of a "projected" figure.  A very large portion of the time a figure for a wining horse is not as much a function of the raw figure compared to the par value as it is the raw figure and all of the figures of the horses that finished behind, as compared to their previous figures.  For example, if Tizway's number is a 101 instead of a 111, then everybody else goes down 10 points, which would put Flat Out at 96 instead of the 106 he got.  Since his previous race was a 113 (Surburan) it is entirely possible that the figure makers decided that an almost 20 point drop by Flat Out wasn't right and that while he ran a worse race, it wasn't that worse.

Unfortunately, projections can become a bit of a self-fullfilling prophecy and, if a previous figure is wrong, can distort future races.

At the end of the day, this once again highlights the mixture of art and science that is figure making.  There are significant value judgements that much be made by the figuremaker each and every step of the way, and most of those judgements are based on small sample sizes and incomplete data.