Photo by Eclipse Sportswire
Track records are almost always more highlighted than they ever should be, and last weekend saw the distracting topic back in the news. In our last blog, we discussed Clearly Now’s scintillating performance at Belmont Park, establishing a new mark for seven furlongs, besting Left Bank’s 2002 record at the distance.
Was it a dazzling effort over a very fast track? Yes. Was it a notable track record? Yes.
Not all track records are the same, and most, frankly, aren’t even close to being noteworthy.
Combining last year’s fall meet at Belmont with this year’s spring/summer meeting, the track hosted nearly 60 races at distance of seven furlongs. Extrapolating that data back to when Left Bank set the old mark, one could rightly estimate there have been more than 600 races at the distance since anyone stopped the timer quicker.
When first starting out in the racing industry, I was calling races at Philadelphia Park (now Parx) and settled in for the last few races on a Sunday card on December 5, 1999. The ninth race that day was incredibly ordinary; a field of ten $12,000 claimers went postward, with Richburg a 2-1 favorite. The son of Great View had been bred in South Carolina and won in his debut effort at the now-defunct Birmingham Turf Club in Alabama. His career highlight was a win in a $30,000 stake at Delaware Park in 1996. The gelding was honest, winning nine of 41 starts prior to that day, spending most of his career in the mid-level claiming ranks.
Under jockey Mark McCormick, Richburg went to the front and never backed-down, rolling away to win by more than six lengths. Somehow, I looked down at the final time and just after announcing the second and third place finishers, caught that the time looked fast (1:02.76), said that, and quickly followed-up that it was a new track record before killing the microphone at the end of the call.
That was pretty cool, a new track record … except, it really made no sense. Did this record indicate Richburg was a budding star? Not at all … he was a 6-year-old claimer. Richburg didn’t race for three months after this effort, came back a winner in March 2000, and had four more starts before going lame in a May 2000 race at Garden State Park. Earlier on the same card, $15,000 maiden claimers ran 5 ½ furlongs in 1:04.26, and $20,000 3-year-old filly claimers did it in 1:03.87. Richburg, somehow, was recorded as running 1.11 seconds faster than both. Every time Philadelphia Park ran a 5 ½ furlong race for the next seven months, bettors were reminded of the record, emblazoned at the top of program pages or within the past performances.
On July 17, 2000, Saint Verre made his career debut for owner-trainer Mary Goodman, winning by more than 10 lengths in 1:02.65, besting Richburg’s mark. He was privately purchased from that race and would go on to win a Grade 3 race, with his career top a Grade 2 placing. The time has not been topped since.
In our last blog, we referenced an oddity from the United Arab Emirates last year when three new track records were set on one card at Jebel Ali Racecourse, a product of an unusual 40 MPH wind. The record for races at 1,400 meters (about seven furlongs) was lowered by 1.81 seconds, while a new mark for 1,200 meters fell by 1.46 seconds, eclipsing a time that “stood” for 11 years.
Getting hyped by a track record performance is most likely going to disappoint you moving forward. Much was made about a pair of dazzling debuters at Del Mar on July 20 when Tara’s Tango won the fourth race, bettering the previous track record by two-fifths of a second. A few races later, Bob Baffert-trained Luminance was tardy from the stalls but gathered her stride, advanced widest of all, and soared over the top to win, going one-hundredth of a second faster than Tara’s Tango, bettering the “old” mark that lived for less than two hours.
Without perspective, it could seem that these juveniles were accomplishing some incredibly rare feat. But they weren’t. Since the previous record was established by Bares Tripper in her career debut on July 25, 2012, there have been a total of nine races at the 5-furlong distance on Polytrack before Tara’s Tango dropped her 57.40. Will marketers around the breeding shed get going after Luminance’s 57.39?
The way in which Luminance won was more impressive, visually, than Tara’s Tango, but both were incredibly strong debut performances. How any of this will translate going forward is a guess. If you want to be impressed with the way a horse performs in a 5-furlong race at Del Mar, let it be because of how they won, not the time in which they won. While every track record is a superlative, they actually come in many different shapes and sizes – the type set by Clearly Now at Belmont Park, the type set Richburg, and the very indifferent types set by Luminance, backed by an incredibly small sample size for comparison.
Opening weekend data
Frankie Dettori may have managed two flying dismounts in his first day riding at Saratoga, but a third was not to be partnering Stephanie’s Kitten in the Diana. The 2011 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf winner faced a wide trip throughout this salty Grade 1 event. While Somali Lemonade managed to continue her incredible run, Stephanie’s Kitten was late on the scene, covering 42 feet more than the winner. That distance amounts to nearly five lengths of extra ground coverage in the race, seemingly meaningful as Stephanie’s Kitten was just beaten a neck.
Saturday’s opening affair was one of the American season’s first two-turn juvenile turf races, seeing Kamarius charge off to a six-length win behind a dawdling pace. Luck of the Kitten set the early pace and faded into second while The Truth Or Else, racing without Lasix for Kenny McPeek, closed from more than five lengths off the tepid tempo to be third. It’s worth noting that The Truth Or Else got the final furlong in 11.85 seconds, which was slightly faster than the easy winner, and 0.6 seconds faster than the fading Luck of the Kitten.
Graham Motion-trained Weave, shuffled to next-to-last at the quarter pole in the one-mile eighth race before rallying to finish fifth, was the quickest closer in the controversial affair, which saw a long objection review between the second home, Fade to Black, and winner Devilish Love. Weave was wider that both of them, covering 18 feet more than Devilish Love and 50 feet more than Fade to Black, a distance which equates to nearly 5 ¾ lengths.
Del Mar’s opening day saw a scintillating run from Enterprising to land the featured Oceanside Stakes. Never out of the first three since his debut seventh at Santa Anita in October, Enterprising recorded his third stakes win of his career rallying from last to first, a new tactic for the Glen Hill Farm’s homebred son of Elusive Quality. In so doing, Enterprising covered a wider journey than most, going 22 feet more than second home Argyle Cut, and 36 feet more than third placer Home School. Enterprising’s final two furlongs were unsurprisingly quick, home in 22.68 seconds, 0.70 seconds faster than Argyle Cut’s 23.38.