Races at 1 1/16 miles, like the 2014 Holy Bull Stakes above, are especially compelling given the short distance between the starting gate and the first turn. (Photo by Eclipse Sportswire)
Twenty-three horses are entered in two different, but equally compelling races for 3-year-olds at Gulfstream Park this weekend – an allowance race going as the sixth on the card and the Besilu Stables Fountain of Youth Stakes. Both races are run at 1 1/16 miles, a distance at Gulfstream which produces a very short run to the first turn, and the shortest stretch run these horses are likely to face any time soon.
What are we getting at? Ground loss central. All aboard.
As written in our blog previewing the Donn Handicap two weeks ago, Gulfstream has sweeping turns and short stretches. Those turns are smoother, less acute bends, but their length increases the likelihood of ground loss. And as we’ve written on countless occasions past, for a horse to maintain position with horses to its inside, it must expend more speed (energy) to do so. What becomes more compelling for these two races is field size. Since Gulfstream unveiled a new finish line in December 2011, allowing for 1 1/16-mile races, only 30 races have been contested with ten or more starters, and just 10 with 12 or more.
Horses breaking from gates 10 and higher are a combined 4-for-60 over that time, with two wins coming from gate 10, and one each from 11 and 12. No horse has won from higher than gate 10 since Dec. 1, 2012, when Brother Bird managed the feat from gate 12. Those breaking from the three inside gates account for 48% of all wins at the distance in the history of Gulfstream. Needless to say, Top Billing, drawn out in 12, is the 7-to-2 second choice on the morning line for the Fountain of Youth.
Commissioner might have the rail, and status as the 3-to-1 early choice in the $400,000 event, and he is very likely to get the shortest way around Gulfstream. From the 185 races Trakus has recorded since this distance was instituted, the average horse breaking on the rail has covered 5,677 feet. That total is six feet less than the average from gate two, and 10 feet less than that from gate three. Below, check the average ground covered, by post position, for races at the distance.
But are winners covering the shortest trip? Not entirely. Unlike the phenomenon we saw at the 1 1/8-mile races where the average winner was covering almost three-quarters of a length less than the average second-place finisher, the difference is less pronounced at this trip, and comes with a substantially larger sample size.
The average winner covers 5,689 feet, the same as the average second-place finisher, with the third- and fourth-place finishers just behind with a nearly negligible difference.
Will horses who are asked to do something they haven’t done before take to it well in this spot? Top Billing, while drawn wide, has covered extra ground in the past, looping the field to win a late January allowance. The son of Curlin most likely will have to do it again. Conversely, how will Constitution, a flashy winner after a horrific start in his career debut, handle two turns, and the almost assured ground-loss in the allowance race on Saturday? Mexikoma had the second-fastest final furlong in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and is now drawn in gate 10 of the allowance test. Meanwhile, Tonalist, also going in that race for trainer Christophe Clement, is one of only three horses in the history of Trakus-recorded data at Gulfstream to win while covering the widest or second-widest trip and close from more than four lengths behind after the opening half-mile of 1 1/8-mile dirt races. Drawn on the rail in that effort, he is planted wider in gate eight.
The data from these compelling, and potentially Kentucky Derby-influencing races, will be available soon after each race goes official. You can access that and data from all other races from Hallandale Beach from Gulfstream Park’s website.
Enjoy the weekend, wherever you are playing.
Please note – this blog has been revised thanks to Jeff Lowe, who identified that we missed counting a race from Gulfstream on Febr. 8, 2014, where a horse did win from gate 10, pushing the record of outside draw wins from gates 10 and higher to four since the advent of races at that distance. Jeff serves as Team Valor International’s media director and their Mexikoma starts in that 10th barrier in Saturday’s allowance race.
TOP BILLING AT GULFSTREAM
Photo by Bob Coglianese/Gulfstream Park