Someone once said that “In most races, the top 2 or 3 finishers all cross the finish line in about the time it takes to slowly blink your eyes.”

We’re talking in generalities here, but think about that . . . after running some portion/s more-or-less of a mile, and after one to two minutes of jockeying for position, after getting bumped or jostled (or not), after getting caught behind, or on the far outside of other horses (or not), after going around or inside or between (or not) – many of the races each day are still decided by noses and necks, or other divisions of a single length!

We try our best to predict the race’s outcome based on the tangible data that we have in the horses’ past performances.  However, I find that many if not most races each day are decided by the intangibles of the race as it unfolds – the data that is impossible to have before the fact becomes the most important factor once the race is underway . . .

I’ve been reading all the ‘expert’ opinions and analyses of the two Triple Crown races – and I find much of it, though written by ‘names’ in the business – to be inane.

For instance: a lot has been made of the relatively (as compared with recent editions of the races, or as compared with previous Triple Crown winners) slow times recorded by American Pharoah in both the Derby and the Preakness. It always amazes me when ‘experts’ talk about final-time as a stand-alone evaluation of a race?!  My reaction is invariably the same – “ridiculous.”

One of my best memories of the Derby was of War Emblem winning in 2002 – partly because I won a large wager, but also because I foresaw the way the race actually unfolded (which is a not-so-common occurrence for any handicapper – no matter what they tell you!).  So War Emblem broke from post 5 and Victor Espinoza immediately went to the front and had his choice of paths – electing one about one spot off the rail – and stayed there all the way around. His final time was 2:01.

In the Derby this year, Espinoza had to break from way on the outside – and after managing to angle over before reaching the first turn – was still 4-5 wide through that turn (because Firing Line chose the 4 path though he was second behind Dortmund who was off the rail in the 2 path).  Into the turn for home, Espinoza took Pharoah even wider for whatever reason.  Anyway – Pharoah ran the equivalent of 3 1/2 lengths farther in the race than did the second place finisher Firing Line, and the approximate equivalent of 8 lengths farther in the race than did the third place finisher, Dortmund.  Pharoah’s final time was 2:03

Just for conjecturing – let’s average those 2 figures above – in feet – and guess that American Pharoah ran approximately 49 feet farther in his 2015 Derby than did War Emblem in his 2002 Derby – which would be around 6 lengths farther. Considering that fact – their NET, adjusted final times become much closer – with only around 4/5ths of a second separating them. Remember the “blink of an eye” idea in the opening of this post?

And all the above is apart from the other intangibles that undoubtedly affected each of the two races; how did each horse break – how fast or slow were the incremental fractions (relative to the horse’s capabilities) – tucked in behind or free running (by choice or fate) – on the outside without kick-back, or mid pack with constant back-scatter – wrangled by the jock to place in a particular position, or horse allowed to run to natural preference? – etc. etc.

And then – what about the Preakness?

By getting to the lead from the rail, American Pharoah ran pretty much the shortest distance between two points – and ended up winning by a margin that was roughly equivalent to the lengths lost (because of the extra distance run) in the Derby.  I.e – he would have won the Derby by the same margin as he won the Preakness if he hadn’t had to run the extra distance that Firing Line and Dortmund didn’t have to run.

But some folks still point out the slow times of the Preakness ?!  They somehow believe they can compare the track that day with the track that, say,  Big Brown ran over in 2008. After the rain-soaked 2015 Preakness, Gary Stevens (Firing Line) is quoted as saying he weighed in at 135 lbs.  So how does one quantify the weight differential of say, Big Brown carrying 126 lbs over a lightening fast track versus American Pharoah carrying +/- 135 lbs over a slippery off-track? (Track variants just don’t cut the mustard when trying to compare situations like these)

I’ll have a lot to say on how to quantify some of the intangibles in a future post – the results of some intense research I’ve been doing for the past month.

Meanwhile – I’d love to see another Triple Crown winner – wouldn’t you?  I think that no matter what post Pharoah draws in the Belmont, he should take it to them right from the start – seeking that “shortest distance between two points” and defying the others to overcome their own intangibles and still beat him to the wire.

As usual – comments are welcomed.        – Gary



  1. Gary,
    Tried to beat AP in the Derby and got burned. After seeing him destroy the Preakness field I decided to hang on to my money and just watch the Belmont. What a horse. I’ve now seen 4 Triple crown winners in my lifetime, including my all time fav – Secretariat (1973). Being a youngster myself, I missed Citation, who swept the series a few months before I was born in 1948. Really looking forward to the fruits of your research on intangibles.

    • Dave – I ‘just watched’ the Belmont as well. There’s another horse race to bet on every few minutes somewhere – but there are those rare few times when it seems right to just stop – and simply enjoy the great spectacle . . . and like yourself and so many others – I’ve been waiting a long time for another Triple Crown winner – and I haven’t felt as happy after any horse race in recent memory as I did after Saturday’s race – no matter how much I’d won on a wager.

      Another post coming up pretty quick. – Gary

  2. I left a comment earlier about why the Pharoah will not win the Crown. Did it get published?

    • George – Your blog comment, for whatever reason, did not come through to admin ?? Can you post again – or send to me in an email and I’ll post in the General Comments section. – Gary

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