Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Guest Post: Speed and Stamina: The Odd Couple

by Mark Cramer

   French trainer Philippe Decouz once explained to me why speed pedigree was necessary for success in jump races: “The horse needs to accelerate after each jump, and if there’s a lack of speed in his pedigree, it will slow him down.”
   Years ago, in a race at Saint-Cloud, a Thoroughbred that did both flat and hurdle racing was entered in a mile event following a long layoff. The trainer commented that this race would be a prep for upcoming obstacle events.
   The horse went off at 35-1, took the lead at the break and never looked back. The crowd, aware of the trainer’s comment, erupted in boos, but in fact, the field was void of early speed and the jumper got the jump. It was indeed a prep, and the horse went on to the planned jump races.
   The odd relationship between speed and stamina is often the core of GI Kentucky Derby analysis. All horses are stretching to the mile-and-a-quarter distance, except for an occasional Dubai winner at the classic distance. 
   According to American author Roger LeBlanc, if you played all Derby entrants showing among the top three four-furlong splits taken from nine-furlong races (in other words, three win bets per Derby), you’d show a 111% profit. In his new The Lazy Bettor’s Guide to the Kentucky Derby: 3 Easy Angles, LeBlanc is meticulous in distinguishing between what he calls “keen-to-lead” horses, which are a bad bet, and more versatile early speed competitors.
   When LeBlanc sent me his manuscript, I was at first skeptical about the word’s “lazy” and “easy.” I feared the usual quick-fix system. However, my fears were allayed after the first few pages. What I love about the book is that it is both empirical and literate. It’s fun to read and it’s based on exquisite and agile research.  
   LeBlanc tells the story of a long list of Derby losers that had been overbet because of their perceived stamina, horses that lacked early speed. I know this viscerally from my bicycling. I can cycle all day, the way certain horses can “run all day,” but I lack speed, so one of my cycling partners, the speedy Alan Kennedy, always ends up ahead of me.
   In 2006, Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro (Dynaformer) showed one of the top three four-furlong splits of all the Derby entrants, when he was second by a half-length at the quarter of the GIII Holy Bull S. with a :46 2/5. The 2010 winner Super Saver (Maria’s Mon) qualified by virtue of his :47 split in the GI Arkansas Derby. Animal Kingdom (Leroidesanimaux {Brz}) was another qualifier in 2011.
   Even the longshot Mine That Bird (Birdstone) fit the parameters in 2009 thanks to a 45 4/5 half at Sunland.
   But alas, LeBlanc’s fractional analysis is anything but “easy” and he delves deeply into the comparative values of early speed fractions from dirt, turf and synthetic preps.
   As with the jumpers in France, the fact that a horse has shown the capacity for early speed does not mean that it will run its Kentucky Derby from the front. That would depend on the pace dynamics--he could end up coming from behind. But the speed aspect of his pedigree will allow for the necessary big move.
   Meanwhile, pure stamina horses will usually finish with chart comments like “didn’t get up on time” or “lacked his usual closing rush.”
   Naturally, Mr. LeBlanc has a lot more to say on the subject, includes three different methods, and goes about it with more nuance and depth than I can in
600 words.
   The disclaimer here is that I eventually wrote a forward for his book. I have never met Mr. LeBlanc, nor do I have any economic interest in the book. I am simply known in the business as a guy who does not turn down a manuscript read, though I am rarely moved to write about one. 

2010 Derby winner Super Saver

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