Inside The Trip: Quality Road’s Hootenanny

Racing

Hootenanny, a debut winnner on April 17 at Keeneland, is from the first crop of Grade 1 winner Quality Road (above). (Photo by Adam Coglianese/NYRA)

One of the great elements of horse racing is that, well, you just never know.

How good will they be? How good could they be? While there are so many variables, paths, and possibilities, it is equally fun and maddening to pursue the chances of a young horse.

Since the beginning of the 2007 spring meet at Keeneland Race Course, there have been 62 races at 4 ½ furlongs, all of which were designed for maiden 2-year-olds. Statistics compiled by Daily Racing Form Formulator from the last five years show that trainer Wesley Ward has recorded 17 wins from 44 starters in these short races since the 2009 meet commenced - a gaudy 38% strike rate.

Given the public’s affection for his starters in these spots, it is typical to see many sent off at short prices. On April 17, Hootenanny, however, was uncharacteristically ignored by the bettors, sent off as the tepid 9-to-2 third choice in a field with six wagering interests. Ward’s “other” starter in the race, Circle the World, was 2-to-1.

WATCH HOOTENANNY'S DEBUT

Video courtesy of Keeneland

Breaking from stall two in the starting gate, Hootenanny was into stride well, as almost all Ward trainees are, and immediately was engaged by Midnight Decision, drawn to his inside. Corey Lanerie had that first-time starter under the whip from the break to maintain his position, while Hootenanny raced with some immaturity to his outside.

Trakus recorded Hootenanny’s first quarter in a contested 22.87 seconds, just behind Midnight Decision setting the pace in 22.83 seconds. Turning into the stretch, Hootenanny was set down by Leandro Goncalves and seemed to be learning what this racing thing was all about. He dispatched a tired Midnight Decision. Then when the more fancied Circle the World and favored Sky Racer came to his flank, they were easily repelled as Hootenanny lengthened away from the field with relative ease, winning by 4 ¼ lengths.

As Hootenanny was drawing clear, it prompted a thought – were his final two furlongs faster than his first two furlongs? And if so, how rare was that for winners at this distance, only used for maiden juveniles? A check of the Trakus data, available on Keeneland’s website, combined with some internal review yielded that Hootenanny’s final quarter was clocked in 22.71 seconds, indeed faster than his first two furlongs. Diving deeper through the archives, it was learned that only eight of the winners from the 62 races at 4 ½ furlongs saw the winner run a faster final two furlongs compared with the first two furlongs. Four of the eight winners ran on from 2.5 lengths or more off the leader following the first quarter, an indication they were running slower early and quickened into the tiring pacesetters (a not-unexpected result). Dismissing those, Hootenanny was one of the other four.

Resetting – the search was to identify horses that were close to the early pace and actually ran faster in the final two furlongs than their pacesetting/pacetracking first two furlongs. Hootenanny’s performance struck us as incredibly impressive, but did other horses who ticked the same boxes amount to much in the future? Those other three horses that ran forward and were faster later than earlier were all winners trained by Ward.

According to Equibase, these three have amassed a record of 17 wins, 13 seconds, and 3 thirds from 41 lifetime starts with combined earnings of $1.75 million

The three horses: Judy the Beauty (winner of last weekend’s Grade 1 Madison Stakes, and a winner on grass, all-weather, and dirt surfaces), Gypsy Robin (a stakes winner on dirt and synthetic surfaces), and Holdin Bullets (third in the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint).

Hootenanny was the first runner to make the races for freshman sire Quality Road, and while it looked impressive given the manner in which the race was contested, the data seems to support that thought.

It’s nearly impossible to derive any legitimate comparison of times across races from different days, years, and eras for that matter. To some extent, it’s why caring about track records is mostly a fool’s errand. It is early days in the career of Hootenanny and there is much time for nature and nurture to run their course. The company this gelding is compared with via this analysis, even after just one start, should be encouraging for the future. It sure is fun to think about it!

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