Triple Crown thoroughbreds not running as fast

  • Article by: CHILDS WALKER , Baltimore Sun
  • Updated: May 12, 2013 - 11:48 PM

Slower horses? Slower tracks? Those in the industry aren’t at all certain why times aren’t nearly what they used to be.

hide

ADVANCE FOR WEEKEND EDITIONS, MAY 11-12 - In this photo taken on Saturday, May 4, 2013, jockey Joel Rosario, third from left, celebrates as Orb crosses the finish line to win the 139th Kentucky Derby horse race at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. Orbís convincing 2-and-a-half length victory in the Kentucky Derby isnít scaring away potential challengers in the Preakness. The bay colt could face close to a full field of 14 for the 1 3/16-mile race at Pimlico next weekend. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Photo: File photo by Darron Cummings • Associated Press,

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

– As Orb charged to the wire at Churchill Downs last weekend, he established his clear superiority to the other 18 thoroughbreds on horse racing’s biggest stage, the Kentucky Derby.

But compared to Derby champions of the past, Orb’s time is less impressive — his 2:02.89 run doesn’t rank among the top 10 in the race’s history. Blame the muddy track? Fair enough, but none of the past decade’s Derby winners recorded a top-10 time either.

Triple Crown thoroughbreds are not running as fast as they used to. And those in the racing industry cite any number of reasons, including lax training schedules, new track surfaces and breeding that stresses short-distance speed.

The discussions about speed come as Orb prepares for the 138th running of the Preakness at Pimlico Race Course next Saturday. Among recent Preakness winners, only Curlin in 2007 recorded a time that ranks among the 10 fastest in that race.

Forty years after he won the Triple Crown, Secretariat still holds the record in each race.

“In general, American horses have not been as good as in the past, and they have not been as good at the classic distances,” said longtime racing writer Andrew Beyer, whose analysis of running times is used throughout the industry. “I haven’t seen horses in the last 20 years that deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as Seattle Slew or Secretariat or Affirmed.”

In the early 1970s, Beyer devised “speed figures” for each race, accounting not only for raw times but for track conditions. Even by those figures, which make it easier to compare races across decades, recent winners of the Derby, Preakness and Belmont have run at speeds below historical norms.

This stands in stark contrast to human performance.

Consider Mark Spitz, who was the Secretariat of swimming, winning seven gold medals at the 1972 Olympics. His records range from 5 to 10 seconds slower than those of Michael Phelps, meaning Spitz wouldn’t have even belonged in the pool at the 2012 Olympics.

In running, Jim Hines set a 100-meter world record at the 1968 Olympics. Hines’ time is no longer among the 300 fastest in history, and the 10 fastest sprints have all been run since 2007.

The question then: Why has U.S. thoroughbred performance in the biggest races stalled?

The explanations are varied and often conflicting. Some analysts say American breeding has focused too much on producing precociously fast 2-year-olds rather than durable racehorses built for the duress of the Triple Crown. In a related issue, some say the genetic pool has become too narrow, with too much emphasis on a few prominent sires.

Others blame modern training, saying the best horses are underworked and too many mediocre horses are pointed toward the Kentucky Derby.

And then there are those who say the whole issue is overblown. These defenders of the modern horse say thoroughbreds are trained to win races, not set time records. Besides, they add, the tracks themselves are kept slower these days because safety, not raw speed, is the chief concern.

“There’s an internal debate in the sport about this very topic,” said NBC horse racing analyst Randy Moss. “If you look at most tracks and most stakes times, the fastest times are relatively recent. But if you look at it through the prism of the Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont, it’s a different story. And that’s partly because of Secretariat, the greatest racehorse of the last 50 years.”

When Beyer crunches the numbers, he finds recent Triple Crown horses wanting. But Jerry Brown, a statistically minded New York handicapper who founded the service Thoro-Graph, looks at the same numbers and comes to a different conclusion. 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.

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 fact, a 3-year-old filly named Dreaming of Julia recently delivered the best performance Brown has measured in his 31 years of analyzing races. Orb’s Derby run was among the three best Brown has measured in that race.

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

 

  • related content

  • Secretariat, shown winning at Belmont in 1973 with Ron Turcotte riding, holds all three Triple Crown marks.

  • 138th Preakness Stakes

    Where: Pimlico Race Course, Baltimore • Distance: 1 3/16 miles

    Post time: 5:20 p.m. Saturday • Draw: 5 p.m. Wednesday

    Field: Ten horses are entered, including Kentucky Derby winner Orb. The field is expected to grow to 12. Derby No. 4 finisher Normandy Invasion won’t run, it was announced Sunday.

    Purse: $1 million. Winner’s share is $600,000.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Tampa 6 FINAL
Philadelphia 2
LA Clippers 96 FINAL
Chicago 86
Cleveland 103 FINAL
Houston 105
Golden State 106 FINAL
Boston 101
Philadelphia 74 FINAL
Indiana 94
Portland 110 FINAL
Sacramento 99
Charlotte 98 FINAL
Orlando 83
Oklahoma City 108 FINAL
LA Lakers 101
New Orleans 99 FINAL
Denver 92
Los Angeles 2 FINAL
Winnipeg 5
Tampa Bay 3 FINAL
Florida 4
Columbus 3 FINAL
Pittsburgh 5
Toronto 0 FINAL
Washington 4
Anaheim 3 FINAL
Dallas 1
St. Louis 5 FINAL(SO)
Vancouver 6
SMU 73 FINAL
Connecticut 81
Quinnipiac 65 FINAL
Manhattan 69
Fairfield 56 FINAL
Niagara 57
Marist 49 FINAL
Rider 59
Iona 60 FINAL
Saint Peters 68
Oregon State 56 FINAL
California 73
South Florida 55 FINAL
Houston 72
Marquette 66 FINAL
Providence 77
Michigan State 61 FINAL
Wisconsin 68
Siena 57 FINAL
Monmouth 63
Pittsburgh 66 FINAL
Wake Forest 69
Oregon 73 FINAL
Stanford 70
Purdue 61 FINAL
Ohio State 65
Arizona State 81 FINAL
Colorado 87
Washington St 67 FINAL
UCLA 72
Georgetown 66 FINAL
Providence 81
Binghamton 50 FINAL
UMBC 73
Elon 65 FINAL
Hofstra 58
Virginia Tech 47 FINAL
Boston College 49
(8) Louisville 59 FINAL
Virginia 75
Texas 69 FINAL
West Virginia 76
Creighton 53 FINAL
Villanova 61
Seton Hall 85 FINAL
Butler 76
UNC-Wilmington 76 FINAL
Coll of Charleston 65
(5) Maryland 69 FINAL
(25) Northwestern 48
Saint Josephs 67 FINAL
La Salle 55
Louisiana Tech 53 FINAL
TX-San Antonio 60
Rhode Island 70 FINAL
Massachusetts 78
Richmond 55 FINAL
VA Commonwealth 49
Davidson 46 FINAL
Fordham 54
St Bonaventure 43 FINAL
Duquesne 51
George Mason 45 FINAL
(22) George Washington 80
Indiana 60 FINAL
(20) Rutgers 71
(12) Texas A&M 63 FINAL
LSU 80
Ole Miss 47 FINAL
(11) Miss State 55
Clemson 56 FINAL
Pittsburgh 61
Maine 47 FINAL
New Hampshire 61
Vermont 48 FINAL
Albany 76
Quinnipiac 87 FINAL
Monmouth 48
Saint Peters 47 FINAL
Siena 64
(4) Notre Dame 67 FINAL
NC State 60
Wisconsin 62 FINAL
Penn State 56
Stony Brook 49 FINAL
Hartford 56
Northeastern 47 FINAL
William & Mary 62
St Johns 61 FINAL
Xavier 74
James Madison 74 FINAL
Delaware 71
Towson 45 FINAL
Drexel 50
Illinois State 50 FINAL
Bradley 60
Southern Ill 74 FINAL
Loyola-Chicago 70
Northern Iowa 54 FINAL
Wichita State 66
Minnesota 76 FINAL
(17) Iowa 92
(15) North Carolina 80 FINAL
(16) Duke 81
Alabama 73 FINAL
Auburn 80
(9) Florida State 69 FINAL
Miami-Florida 55
Arkansas 41 FINAL
Missouri 57
Georgia 52 FINAL
Florida 45
Dayton 95 FINAL
Saint Louis 68
Drake 57 FINAL
Missouri State 86
Colorado 46 FINAL
(10) Arizona State 59
(19) Stanford 55 FINAL
Oregon 62
Marquette 82 FINAL
DePaul 99
Southern Miss 66 FINAL
Texas-El Paso 60
Vanderbilt 49 FINAL
(6) Tennessee 79
(2) South Carolina 56 FINAL
(13) Kentucky 67
Utah 41 FINAL
Arizona 64
Ohio State 78 FINAL
Nebraska 60

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: With Adrian Peterson's suspension overturned, what should the Vikings do?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close