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

Pittsburgh - LP: F. Liriano 0 FINAL
Cincinnati - WP: J. Cueto 4
Tampa Bay - LP: J. Odorizzi 0 FINAL
Baltimore - WP: M. Gonzalez 3
Chicago Cubs - LP: J. Hammel 0 FINAL
NY Yankees - WP: M. Tanaka 3
St. Louis - LP: J. Kelly 1 FINAL
Milwaukee - WP: W. Peralta 5
NY Mets - WP: D. Gee 5 FINAL
Arizona - LP: B. McCarthy 2
Atlanta - WP: J. Teheran 1 FINAL
Philadelphia - LP: C. Lee 0
Chicago Cubs - LP: T. Wood 0 FINAL
NY Yankees - WP: M. Pineda 2
Cleveland - WP: Z. McAllister 3 FINAL
Detroit - LP: A. Sanchez 2
Washington - WP: D. Storen 6 FINAL
Miami - LP: M. Dunn 3
Seattle - LP: F. Rodney 2 FINAL
Texas - WP: P. Figueroa 3
Boston - WP: C. Capuano 6 FINAL
Chicago WSox - LP: L. Garcia 4
Kansas City - WP: D. Duffy 6 FINAL
Houston - LP: J. Williams 4
Toronto 0 Postponed
Minnesota 0
Oakland - LP: D. Pomeranz 4 FINAL
LA Angels - WP: J. Smith 5
Colorado - LP: J. De La Rosa 2 FINAL
San Diego - WP: A. Cashner 4
Los Angeles - LP: J. Howell 1 FINAL
San Francisco - WP: J. Machi 2
Chicago 86 FINAL
Charlotte 91
Indiana 101 FINAL
Orlando 86
Atlanta 111 FINAL
Milwaukee 103
Dallas 105 FINAL
Memphis 106
Detroit 111 FINAL
Oklahoma City 112
Houston 100 FINAL
New Orleans 105
LA Lakers 113 FINAL
San Antonio 100
Brooklyn 85 FINAL
Cleveland 114
Philadelphia 100 FINAL
Miami 87
Utah 136 FINAL
Minnesota 130
Washington 118 FINAL
Boston 102
Toronto 92 FINAL
New York 95
Golden State 116 FINAL
Denver 112
LA Clippers 104 FINAL
Portland 110
Phoenix 104 FINAL
Sacramento 99
Montreal 5 FINAL(OT)
Tampa Bay 4
Columbus 3 FINAL
Pittsburgh 4
Dallas 3 FINAL
Anaheim 4
Philadelphia 1 FINAL
Red Bull New York 2

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Who will win the Wild-Colorado playoff series?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

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

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close