Fractionally SpeakingDoing the Splits!
By Jessica Chapel, Hello Race Fans Contributing Editor
Time only matters in prison, as the old racetrack saying goes, but time can also tell a story about how a race was run. While it’s possible to derive a horse’s preferred running style and the pace of a race by looking at past performances, there’s even more useful information to be gleaned by examining the fractions. For example, on paper, Zenyatta won a lackluster edition of the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Classic (chart), receiving a Beyer speed figure of 97 for a final time of 2:00.62. But Zenyatta went from sixth at the stretch call to first at the wire in a stellar time of 23.30. Looking at Zenyatta’s fractions for the Classic, you can see that her historic victory was a great race in which she effortlessly tracked her rivals, then powerfully outkicked them in the stretch.
Confused? Don’t be. At every point of call in a race, a fractional time for the race leader at that point is recorded. The first point of call is the first quarter (the first two furlongs), the second call the first half (the first four furlongs). In races longer than five and a half furlongs, the third is for the first three-quarters (the first six furlongs). In races longer than a mile, a fourth time is taken at that point, an additional time for each quarter after. A final time is recorded when the winner hits the finish line.
Fractional times are cumulative. For the 2010 Kentucky Derby (chart), a 10-furlong race with four points of call plus the final time, the results chart displays the fractional times like so:
22.63 46.16 1:10.58 1:37.65 Final time: 2:04.45
The time of 22.63 is the time it took the race leader to run the first quarter, 46.16 the time it took to run the first half, 1:10.58 the time for the first three-quarters, 1:37.65 the time for the mile, and 2:04.45 the winner’s final time.
By subtracting each quarter’s time from the preceding time, we can get internal splits for a race. The internal splits for the Kentucky Derby:
22.63 23.53 24.42 27.07 26.80
After the first quarter was run in 22.63, the second quarter was run in 23.53, the third quarter in 24.42, the fifth in 27.07 and the final in 26.80.
In the Kentucky Derby, we can see that the splits display a pattern common to main track races: The opening quarters are faster than the later quarters. (Races run over turf often follow a different pattern, with slower opening quarters and faster closing quarters.) We can also see that the pace of the race, set by Conveyance, was quick and collapsed in the fourth quarter, with Noble’s Promise briefly taking a slow lead. This scenario opened up the race to horses held back during the swift opening quarters, such as Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver, who ran the fourth quarter in 26.22 and the final in 26.55.
Ice Box, also running off the pace in the Derby, finished second after running the fourth quarter in 24.45 and the final in 26.10 — a faster final quarter than any other Derby contender. Impressive, yes, but that time also reveals a limitation. Watching the race, Ice Box appears to be closing quickly on Super Saver, but this is an optical illusion — Ice Box isn’t closing fast, he’s slowing at a rate less than that of the other runners. Compare this to Zenyatta’s Breeders’ Cup Classic time, in which the mare won by running the final quarter not only faster than the other Classic contenders, but faster than she ran the previous quarters.
Following the 2010 Kentucky Derby, handicappers speculated that Ice Box would have won with a clean trip and that he would appreciate the distance of a longer race, such as the Belmont Stakes. But the fractions suggest that — unlike Zenyatta, who really can close — Ice Box has little advantage in the final furlongs of a route. Raw as the times and splits are, the numbers still yield clues to the colt’s capabilities, just as Zenyatta’s confirm her talents.
There’s much more to understanding and applying fractions, but getting comfortable with the basics is the first step toward understanding pace handicapping. To begin exploring fractions, visit the Trakus website. Installed at a number of racetracks, including Gulfstream Park and Keeneland, Trakus uses wireless radio tags to track the speed of every runner in a race. The collected data can then be displayed at each point of call and at the end of the race (the “Race Summary” view on the Trakus website). To see the final fraction for each runner in a specific race, select the final point of call (the “Finish” view).