Run-Up and Its Effect on Final Time

TimeformUS Chief Figure Maker Craig Milkowski looks at the effect “run-up” has on the timing of races. His Pace Figures were recently added to TimeformUS PPs.


What is “run-up”?

Run-up is the distance traveled before the timing of the race begins. It gives horses a running start. The timing of the race doesn’t begin until the first horse hits the point where the official distance of the race begins, commonly referred to as tripping the beam. This horse triggers the beginning of the electronic timing of the race.

Why does run-up lead to misleading times?

Screen Shot 2013-11-15 at 12.28.20 PMObviously, the most accurate way to time horse races would be to do it from the gate and to run exactly the official distance. But that isn’t how it is done. Instead, horses are timed from a running start. The effect of this is that every horse EXCEPT the horse that hits the beam first is timed using the official distance of the race PLUS the distance the first horse is ahead when it begins the timing. On the surface, this doesn’t seem to be that big of an issue. After all, horses that trail at the beam do so because they aren’t as fast as the leader. But when the situation is looked at in more depth, it becomes clear that it is problematic.

Here is an example involving two theoretical races at Santa Anita Park, both run at one mile on the dirt course. Santa Anita uses a very long run-up for these races in order to take the start farther away from the first turn. Sixty yards is not uncommon.

Race 1: Horse A out-sprints the field early and trips the beam five seconds after the break from the gate. The next horse, Horse B, doesn’t cross the beam until .30 seconds later. The leader goes much too fast early, quits badly, and staggers home last, well back of the others. Horse B takes over the lead and wins the race. The final time is reported as 1:36.00.

Race 2: Horse C breaks alertly, but not as quickly as Horse A above. He trips the beam 5.30 seconds after the start. He wins the race wire to wire, and the final time is once again reported as 1:36.00.

This sort of thing happens every day in horse racing (though isn’t always this extreme). OK, which horse ran the faster race, B or C? Or is it a tie? Both horses took 5.30 seconds to complete the untimed portion of the race (doesn’t that alone sound ridiculous?), and both horses are reported as having run one mile in 1:36.00. Examine the entire race to answer the question properly.

Race 1: The total time needed to complete this race from gate to wire was 1:36.00 seconds plus the five seconds it took to reach the beam, for a total of 1:41.00.

Race 2: The total time needed to complete this race from gate to wire was 1:36.00 seconds plus the 5.30 seconds of “untimed” racing, for a total of 1:41.30.

Clearly, Horse B ran the faster race. In racing lingo, .30 is nearly two full lengths. Why are races timed with this arcane, inaccurate method as we approach 2014? At some point, isn’t “We’ve always done it that way?” just a tired excuse? And for that matter, why was it done that way in the first place?

Effect on Figure Making

It is important for figure makers to understand these differences. Many handicappers complain when races run on the same track and at the same distance are given different final-time figures. They complain that figure makers are just trying to fit races together like a puzzle. It is important to remember that the data used for the figure process is flawed. Many times it is wise not to trust the times when assigning ratings. This is just one example of the troublesome issues those trying to rate races come across. It is far from the only one. But this one is unnecessary and could easily be fixed–if the people running the sport were interested in fixing it.

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5 Responses to Run-Up and Its Effect on Final Time

  1. Brian says:

    I stumbled on this post while doing a search and there is a flaw in your logic here. “The total time needed to complete this race from gate to wire was 1:36.00″….it’s not…it’s from triggering the clock to the wire….they’re both 1:36. And there is no way to know what horse in a race started the clock, unless you watch every race in detail and take notes…and even then it’s only fractions of a second. Assuming the distances between the trigger and the finish line are the same, the both ran the distance in the same time. But with large run ups, the horse may have run further….total, which would possibly affect stamina at the end of the race (eg a 5 foot vs a 120 foot)…but it would not affect the time of the race itself.

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    • I agree the longer distance could slow the final time, depending on race shape, but that effect is much smaller than what is caused by a running start.

      The rest, I’m not really clear what you are trying to say. Obviously many tracks use shorter run up and the effect on time is smaller. But there are tracks using very long run ups (over 100 yards at times!) and the example I discuss is not flawed at all. It isn’t only possible, it happens regularly.

      In the end, until we stop using run up in North America, there is going to be some margin of error built into time. We aren’t comparing apples to apples. That isn’t just final time but fractions as well.

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  2. bkelley35 says:

    Think examples of eliminating run ups are in jurisdictions Quarter horse races,Maryland and Hong Kong. By having run ups none of times are accurate. Look at the times of 6 furlough races at CD.

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  3. Craig Milkowski says:

    I posted this elsewhere, but imagine if the Olympics used this method to time the 100m dash. It is doubtful Usain Bolt would hold any records because he is a slow starter. Somebody else would trip the beam, and he would still win, but his time would be slower than it would be if he were to run the same exact race alone, or against a field in which he was the best out of the blocks.

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  4. Jim Goff says:

    Horses should be timed from the time the gate opens until they hit the finish line. It is so obvious and logical that horse racing will NEVER embrace such a simple concept.

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