Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Synthetic Beyers: As Artificial As The Tracks

In a press release Tuesday on the Daily Racing Form, (Click Here To Read) Andrew Beyer announced that he is retroactively changing the figures and the methodology behind his figures for all races on synthetic tracks in 2009 and beyond.

Handicappers and fans alike have noticed that synthetic Beyer Speed Figures have been noticeably lower than those produced on traditional dirt tracks. Figures that reach or exceed the 110 barrier are a rare occurrence and the average top class figure earned by solid G1 and G2 performers is in the 105 region. On the east coast, which is still predominately comprised of dirt tracks, the typical G1 horse earns between 105-115.

Now, if the decision to adjust the methodology of the figures was based solely on a belief that the fundamental mechanics behind figures were flawed, I could understand the need to adjust the figures. Beyer reveals the true reason they’ve adjusted the figures were to “make synthetic figures closer to those for dirt”. That’s an entirely different issue.

The question is should these figures be retroactively increased simply because of perception that they’re low? What real value is there for speed figures if they are arbitrarily inflated so that they are more comparable to those on dirt? If there is a noticeable disparity in the speed displayed on differing tracks should that not be reflected in the figures?

I’ve seen very little evidence that purely synthetic horses are in the same class as pure dirt horses. Bob Baffert famously once said about synthetic tracks, “they make an average horse good and a good horse average.” We’ve seen very little in the brief history of synthetic racing to dispute that opinion.

I Want Revenge was an average horse on polytrack and put up two powerful performances on dirt. Papa Clem became a G1 winner on dirt after being a promising yet second tier horse on poly. Pioneerof The Nile, the top dawg in California , has looked distinctly average after flopping in the Preakness and earning a 96 Beyer in the Derby.

What great horses have synthetic tracks produced? The closest thing to a great horse produced on the synthetic circuit is Zenyatta. The undefeated mare is undoubtedly a great race mare, but its not to be forgotten that she really stamped her case by shipping out of Cali and defeated former Eclipse champion Ginger Punch on dirt in the Apple Blossom.

Aside from her, you have a handful of synthetic horses that have under whelmed when it mattered most in the Triple Crown and the non-synthetic Breeders Cups. If the synthetic circuit is producing lesser quality horses, shouldn’t they produce lower figures?

I’m not trying to discount California racing, but I’ve yet to see a Ghostzapper, Curlin, Mineshaft or Medaglia D’Oro (unquestionably fast horses) produced by purely synthetic racing, so you have to wonder why the Beyers need to be arbitrarily increased to match those earned on dirt.

If I had to guess as to the real reason they are being increased it would start with advertising and pressure from commercial stud farms. Speed figures are a big angle in promoting a stallion. How often do you see in trade publications, “The Highest figure of 2008”, “The Fastest Horse Since The Inception of Speed Figures”, “Ten Triple Digit Beyers.” These are big marketing tools and it’s hard to promote a 102 Beyer.

I’m also sure there has been some pressure from the tracks. Speed figures can easily give the perception of producing less talented or dynamic individuals, not a particularly useful rallying cry to attract people to attend.

Whatever the rational is behind this move I don’t agree with it. To inflate figures for perception defeats the point of the figures in the first place. It makes the figures as artificial as the tracks the horses are running over.

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