Wednesday, October 9, 2013

A Tale of Two Trips

--Brian DiDonato

   In both Grade I races run for 2-year-olds this past Saturday--the Champagne and the Dixiana Breeders' Futurity--one can make the argument that the runner-up was best. One trip was obvious, so much so that it will be blown out of proportion going forward, while the other is far less likely to be picked up on by the wagering public.
   Anyone who saw Honor Code's late run in the Champagne was rightfully impressed (click for chart and video). Devoid of early speed, the hulking son of A.P. Indy was spun very wide into the stretch (seven or eight paths by solid third-place finisher Ride On Curlin) and flew home to fall a neck short of speedy fellow 'TDN Rising Star' Havana. It was a move that just looked so good visually that it only served to add to the hype surrounding a horse who seems to already rest atop many a 2014 Derby list.
   But when all the factors are considered, it might be a performance that looked better to the naked eye than it does when subjected to scrutiny. For starters, Havana worked hard every step of the way, pressing an above-average pace from second, while Honor Code conserved his energy at the back of the pack. It's telling that pacesetter Debt Ceiling finished last, while Grand Arrival, next-closest early, finished second-to-last.
   According to Trakus data, Honor Code covered 20 ft. (~2.4 lengths) more than Havana in the Champagne, but where he covered the extra ground is important. The dark bay didn't come off the rail until he started to approach the stretch. Ground loss at this point in a race is almost never the detriment that some believe it is. In addition to keeping a horse out of trouble and free to lengthen his stride, it allows him to build up additional momentum (I'm certainly no scientist, but it's centrifugal force or something). The wider a horse (or a bike, ice skater, etc.) turns into a straight, the more inertia they'll carry. So while a horse who goes wide into the lane has to cover more ground, they make up for it with the additional forward momentum they generate by a larger arc. Ground loss is definitely a major trip factor at other points of a race, but it is much less of a detriment late on the home turn and into the straight.

Honor Code (outside) falls just short of Havana
   Breeders' Futurity runner-up Smarty's Echo, meanwhile, ran very well to be second, all things considered (click for chart and video). The 11-1 shot was fairly close to an extremely fast pace (25 points above par on the Moss Pace Figure scale for the opening quarter), and never found cover. He was three or four wide at best throughout the two-turn contest, and traveled 23 feet more (~2.7 lengths) than the eventual 2 3/4-length winner We Miss Artie, who drafted early before tipping out under a perfect John Velazquez ride. (Interestingly, Horse of the Year Wise Dan went down at 1-2 one race later in the Shadwell 'Turf' Mile with a Smarty's Echo-like ride from Velazquez).
   Smarty's Echo only earned a 65 Beyer Speed Figure in what looks like a mediocre renewal of the Breeders' Futurity, but he did earn an 82 Beyer previously for his Arlington maiden breaker, and figures to offer some value wherever he shows up next. He ran much better on Saturday than he will be given credit for. Honor Code, on the other hand, possesses a world of upside, but everyone sees it. He's certainly good, but will definitely be overbet next time--perhaps so much so that he could be favored over Havana if he shows up at the Breeders' Cup. Horses with Honor Code's profile often end up being money burners, and Honor Code seems like he could be one of those types.

No comments: