Power Broker takes the FrontRunner Stakes at Santa Anita Park on September 29, 2012.
by Pat Cummings
Trakus has been installed since the beginning of the Santa Anita autumn meeting, which culminates in the much anticipated Breeders’ Cup extravaganza. While there have only been 12 one-mile dirt races at the current Santa Anita stand, the data from those races has suggested a fairly strong trend, which could offer some insight in advance of the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.
In some cases when this blog offers data, we caution to make the reader aware of the data being sampled, obvious issues to consider, and our recognition that ground loss is only one of many variables to consider. This time, our caution comes before the data. The sample size of races tracked by Trakus at Santa Anita is incredibly small given the duration of the meet and the diversity of race lengths. Given that 1,000 tons of sand were added to the surface before the start of the current meet, past samples could have been rendered irrelevant given some change in the condition of the course.
In races run at one mile on the Santa Anita dirt since the current meet started on September 28, winners covered, on average, 5,323 feet, which is 15 feet less than second or third place finishers, and 19 feet less than the average fourth place finisher. This suggests that the average winner is covering approximately 1 ¾ and 2 ¼ lengths less than the next three finishers. Clearly, ground loss has mattered.
What makes this even more interesting is a review of the final sectionals, as Trakus records individual sectional times for all horses throughout the race. The average second place finisher over one-mile races at Santa Anita has run a final quarter mile in 25.96 seconds and an average final eighth in 13.15 seconds. Winners, meanwhile, are averaging 26.03 and 13.22 seconds for those splits. The average winner is slowing, albeit slightly, compared to the average place finisher. If you think this suggests most winners at the mile distance are headed to the front and hanging on for a win – you would be correct.
Reviewing the videos and the charts of these races confirms the raw data: saving ground and racing forward has mattered at the finish. Eight of the 12 races at the distance have been won by horses that led throughout, and 11 of the 12 winners covered either the shortest, or second shortest overall trip. The one horse to close the most ground in any one-mile dirt race so far this meet was Mia Isabel, who closed from six lengths back after the first quarter mile in a race taken off the turf from October 12. Interestingly, Mia Isabel covered the shortest trip in the small field of four. While she was initially wide leaving the front-stretch, jockey Garrett Gomez gathered his charge and dove to the rail, where she remained for the duration of the first and second turns before pulling away to win by more than a length.
The quality of the field to face the starter in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile would tower over the stock that has filled the 12 races in this sample, with five claiming races, three maiden claimers, two maiden special weight races, an allowance/optional claiming contest and a listed handicap that drew a field of five. It is worth noting that only one of the mile races this meet had more than eight horses while the average field size over the five runnings of the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile is ten.
The trend of ground-saving, occasionally combined with front-running speed, has not been witnessed in races run at 1 1/16 miles, the starting distance for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and Juvenile Fillies, and just 330 feet more than races at a flat mile. For any number of reasons, the results are much more scattered across running styles, ground coverage, and realistically, very different from races that cover a half-furlong less. To date this meet, there have also been 12 races at the distance with just two winners leading throughout (compared to eight at one mile) and only five of the 12 winners covering the shortest or second-shortest trip (compared to 11). Power Broker, a 6 ½ length winner of the Frontrunner Stakes, a prep for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, was the only horse in any of the 24 races at the combined distances, to have won when covering the most ground of any horse in its respective race.
The dramatic difference in the results of races at these two distances demanded discussion. Still, it remains possible that the admittedly small sample size is playing havoc with the difference between the two distances. Next week, we will offer some notable data from Breeders’ Cup prep races as tracked by Trakus and update this week’s analysis if warranted.