California Chrome received a TFUS speed figure of 110 for winning the Kentucky Derby. The figure was originally set at 104, but was upgraded after a period of public deliberation by our figure maker Craig Milkowski on his Twitter feed. “Biggest race of the year, and for a variety of reasons the toughest for figure making so far in 2014.” Why was the number bumped up? As we explained on our Twitter feed:
We believe the surface was slower for the Derby, with wind and track maintenance playing a role.
— TimeformUS (@TimeformUS) May 5, 2014
I’m not going to go into more details on the thinking – Craig will do so himself in a post that you’ll see here in the next day or two.
As you may have read, California Chrome received a Beyer figure of 97. It is the lowest number for any Derby or Preakness winner since Mr. Beyer started making his figures. That number was itself upgraded from 92 in deference to the strong headwind confronting the horses in the stretch; that according to Randy Moss….who also pointed out that the first quarter, run against the same wind, was accomplished in a snappy 23. Of course, the horses were all quite exhausted when they came up against it a second time.
Our figure of 110 translates roughly to a Beyer of 103. So we’re not talking about that much of a difference in the number itself. The difference is more about what California Chrome – and the horses who mostly staggered home behind him in a sluggish final quarter of 26.21 seconds – did here as opposed to their prior efforts. On the Beyer scale, California Chrome regressed by 10 points from his Santa Anita Derby; 11 from his career high. We have him going back by just three points from his SA Derby. (That of course is before the figure was adjusted in the Derby PP line for the extra weight. Jeez, I really wish we wouldn’t do that. We’re supposed to be simplifying things!!)
Does it really make sense that he would have regressed, in crushing his opponents the way he did, as much as Beyer suggests? I dunno. Intuitively, I would not have thought so, and I don’t believe Craig does either. Guess we’ll see how it all plays out. Look, I’m certainly not here to bash Beyer; just discussing the differences of opinion. In fact, let’s give credit where it’s due. He had California Chrome as the fastest horse coming into the race. We did not.
On the other hand, it surely makes sense that many if not all of these horses wouldn’t run as fast at a mile and a quarter as they did at shorter routes; question is to what extent. I think it’s fair to say that none of them really relished the distance – not even Commanding Curve, who looked like he was going fast in closing for second, but who covered the last quarter in a still moderate 25.66 seconds. (He was “our favorite bomb” in our Derby preview.)
Obviously, most of the others – besides Commanding Curve – regressed significantly no matter what scale you use. Especially Wicked Strong and Danza. That makes perfect sense considering that they both had ideal trips in their preps – at shorter distances they both probably prefer – and they both encountered traffic difficulty on Saturday.
As a matter of fact, looking at the race chart, the only horses that do not have any kind of trouble notation whatsoever in the comments are California Chrome and Commanding Curve. (Early pace-setter Uncle Sigh got a tepid drifted in foes early, the rest of them all had something more significant.) California Chrome made his own luck with his tactical speed and his fleet turn of foot that enabled him to open up at the top of the lane. Commanding Curve stayed out of trouble while far back and was fortunate to get a clear path around tiring horses. I’m not buying him any more than I did Golden Soul, who closed for second at long odds for the same trainer last year (albeit aided by last year’s torrid pace).
That’s certainly not to say that the end result would have been different with better trips. I haven’t heard any trainer say that his horse would/could/should have won. And any trouble that occurred in the stretch run was likely because the horses were tired, and perhaps because they were being blown about by the wind (because they were tired). California Chrome was simply the best horse. And while you’re not going to hear me utter the words “Triple Crown,” I think we’d all be rather surprised at this point if he’s not still alive for it when they line up in the gate for the Belmont on June 7.