A Funny 'Cide' Thing A funny thing happened during the running of the 129th Kentucky Derby. The "thing" is not that the supposedly superior Empire Maker was beaten by the double-digit longshot Funny Cide. The funny "thing" is that the results were predictable. Read on. Recall Affirmed running and winning all three of the 1978 Triple Crown races. You may even recollect that Alydar ran second in each race. Obviously, Affirmed was faster than Alydar. But was he? Perhaps Funny Cide is faster than Empire Maker. But is he? After reading the rest of this article you will conclude that Alydar was the faster horse (and that he deserved higher speed ratings than those published). You will also be able to make an informed decision about when a funny "thing" will happen at your favorite track. The competition between the two great three year olds of 1978 documents the funny "thing" which when ignored is a serious disadvantage to horseplayers. Speed rating adjustments (reward/penalty) are suggested to identify this handicapping oversight and turn it into an advantage. These adjustments confirm the superiority of your selection and uncover overlay winners and higher odds horses to use in exotic combinations. The obvious results are an improved return on investment. Some questions: Are outside post positions a disadvantage to a horse? Does this apparent disadvantage more correctly result from how far a horse is from the rail when it gets to the turn? What is the disadvantage of racing wide in a turn? Can this disadvantage be predicted by pace and running style and then quantified in speed rating points? And, how can knowledge of this disadvantage be turned into a betting advantage?
Now visualize a right triangle with the side making the right angle the distance from the center of post position one (PP1) of the starting gate to the first turn (usually somewhat over 1000 feet). The other side is the distance from the center of PP1 to post position 5 (PP5). The distance between each post position of a starting gate is 3.5 feet (I’ve measured it). Therefore, the length of this side of the triangle is 3.5 feet times 4 (the distance from the middle of PP1 to the middle of PP5) or 14 feet. Thus the distance to the turn for the PP5 horse is the square root of the sum of the square of the distance to the first turn from the center of PP1 plus the square of 14 feet. A small survey of several tracks determined that the distance from the starting gate to the turn ranged from a reported 1320 feet at Hollywood to 2010 feet at Emerald Downs. Solving the equation for PP5 at Hollywood and at Emerald Downs yields the distances of 1320.07 feet and 2010.05 feet respectively. PP12 is 38.5 (11 times 3.5) feet from PP1. The distances to the turn for PP12 are 1320.56 feet (Hol) and 2010.37 (Emd) feet. Although highly unlikely at either track, PP16’s distances are 1321.04 and 2010.68. Clearly; regardless of post position number (PPN), there is hardly more than a foot of difference (at Hol -- 1320.00 - 1321.04 or 1.04 feet and at Emd -- 2010.00 - 2010.68 or 0.68 feet) in the distance any horse travels when racing to the turn. Disadvantage? The numbers don’t support any. Still, horseplayers insist that a horse with a higher (outside) PPN is at a disadvantage. High school math can not only identify, but seemingly quantify the horse’s very real disadvantage. Recall that the circumference (the distance around) of a circle is equal to two times the radius (the distance from its center to the outside edge) of a circle multiplied by the constant 3.14159 (known as "pi"). Affirmed and Alydar ran joined at the hip for the final 7/8ths of a mile during the 1978 Belmont Stakes. This included the final turn (half the circumference of a circle). Assume that 3.5 feet (recall the starting gate) was the distance between the centers of the two horses. The radius of Alydar’s circle on the outside was this 3.5 feet longer than that of Affirmed on the rail. Use any radius you choose and the result will always be that the outside horse has to run 3.5 feet times pi or about 11 feet further than the inside horse. Alydar had to run these 11 "extra" feet to remain even with Affirmed when both horses exited the turn and began their historic stretch drive. If the distance between the center of this pair had been 4.5 feet, then the "extra" distance would have been 14 feet. Three horses side by side require the outside horse to run 25 feet further than the inside horse. Assume that the "length" of a thoroughbred is about eight and a half feet. Then the "first over" outside horse is at a disadvantage of 1.3 to almost 1.7 lengths to the inside horse and a disadvantage of 3 lengths or more for the three wide ("3w" in the chart’s comments) horse.
Unfortunately, not all comment lines include information translatable to speed rating point adjustments. Shedding light on or perhaps further complicating the reward/penalty issue are the legitimate considerations of total number of runners, numbers of expected front runners, a horse’s PPN (recall the comments relative to going wide into the turn), and the horse’s running style.
Skipping past the "close up" runners to the "closers", penalties are suggested (focusing first on sprint races) based on the number of expected closers. For a small field, the penalty is small enough to be ignored. For fields of 5 to 8 horses, a penalty of 0.5 is suggested. For nine to 12 runners, a 0.8 penalty; and for fields greater than 12, a 1.3 point penalty. Closers in a route race incur more of a penalty for going wide. In a short field, 1.6 points is appropriate. For fields of five to eight, about 1.9 points; and any field exceeding 9, a 2.1 point penalty.More severe penalties were calculated and would not be inappropriate. These suggested penalties incorporated the probabilities presented earlier and considered both turns of a route.
-- Walter Seip is a retired US Army Colonel, is an engineer with advanced degrees, and lives in Las Vegas where he has won several local handicapping tournaments and hit the board in many others. BRIS (Brisnet.com) has been his source of handicapping data since 1998. @copyright, SEIP Ventures May 2003. All Rights Reserved.
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