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Union Rags vs. Paynter Pace Graph

Here's a quick follow-up to our pre-Belmont post on pace, where the take-home was that flatter pace lines do best in the 12-furlong classic. This year's race gave another example where the winner had the more consistent pace.

Mike Smith wanted the lead with Paynter, but to get there they had to run a very quick opening quarter (:23 3/5), one of the fastest opening quarters in the last 20 years of the Belmont. Immediately, this wasn't a good thing for Paynter, but similarly to Touch Gold (TrueNicks,SRO) in 1997, they slowed the pace considerably in the second quarter. But where Touch Gold was able to switch off down the backstretch and save himself for the stretch, Paynter didn't get the same breather. From the six- to five-furlong pole, Unstoppable U moved up to Paynter and forced him to run a quick 24-second fourth quarter-mile. This early move ultimately cost Paynter the race.

Meanwhile, John Velazquez gave Union Rags a more patient ride, quite similar to the winning ride he gave Rags to Riches in 2007. Remember that his entire career, Union Rags has been criticized for a lack of acceleration in big races—he couldn't run down Hansen (TrueNicks) or Take Charge Indy after having dead-aim on them in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and Florida Derby, respectively, and he wasn't nimble enough to escape traffic in the Kentucky Derby. But in the Belmont, he didn't need that kind of acceleration. Instead, his relentless, steady running style was finally rewarded.

Union Rags vs. Paynter, 2012 Belmont, lengths per second at each call (click to enlarge)

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Again, interesting analysis with interesting results. The graph indicates how Paynter lost and Union Rags won. ... Will we see more of this type of analysis in the future?

JerseyTom 11 Jun 2012 2:37 PM

There is an old saying that statistics can be used to prove anything (if you imput the proper data). Bottom line is that UR won and not much else matters, not even a lost shoe.....

Pboo 11 Jun 2012 3:51 PM

Interesting. Looks like Paynter made three energy-costly moves. One to gain the lead, another to answer Unstoppable U (at a time in the race where an acceleration is nearly always fatal), and a third shorter one in the stretch (too short to be reflected on the graph, I think), where he briefly quickened away from Union Rags. That was a pretty big effort from a relatively inexperienced horse.

It would have been interesting to see what had happened if Paynter had just been parked outside of Unstoppable U early, or as with Touch Gold, had not responded to the premature challenge.

We did at least get to find out whether Union Rags took after the sire side of the pedigree, the speedy Dixie Union, or the distaff side and his granddam, the long-winded Terpsichorist.

Alan Porter 11 Jun 2012 4:10 PM

Sure, Tom. We'll have to take a look at some pace trends in other big races later this year. Also, it could be interesting if progeny of certain stallions have similar trends (but of course this is very multi-factoral).

Ian Tapp 11 Jun 2012 4:41 PM

Not to beat this to death, but Jersey Tom's comment-"The graph indicates how (?why) Paynter lost and Union Rags won."- suggests that some may be taking Ian's analysis a bit too far (not speaking for Ian, because not sure he'd agree). For example, even had every winning Belmont S. participant raced the distance in completely flat line fashion, it doesn't necessarily follow that all (discounting their relative ability to rate, etc.) who contested the race would be best served had they paced in identical fashion- that's what I had alluded to in my earlier posts. As separate example, who can say that Secretariate's final time would have been swifter had he paced in more flat line fashion (discounting all other variables). Ian's research and analysis does indicate that a controlled deceleration toward a flat line tends to produce the most winners, and that too much diversion from the "rule" can negatively impact on some THAT WERE PHYSIOLOGICALLY, ETC. CAPABLE OF PERFORMING AT THEIR BEST, OR NEAR BEST (AT THAT DISTANCE) WITH SUCH TACTICS.  

sceptre 11 Jun 2012 4:52 PM


Right. I'd like to think that we're all on board with (a) horses aren't machines and (b) condensing a race into a graph can only tell you so much.

I agree with your rule qualifiers as well, and knowing Tom, I'm sure he also agrees.

Ian Tapp 11 Jun 2012 5:25 PM

In the Slow slow time they ran, and considering 3/4 of the field were finished by the 9 furlong mark, this was not an impressive win in my eyes, and to think that with the same track condition(which it was) Union Rags would have lost by 5+ lengths at least to.....Da Tara.  This is not that big of a deal, and Union Rags will still continue to struggle the rest of the year at 9 and 10 furlongs because the fields will be MUCH better then this Allowance quality field.  Let's see if his connections will go in the Haskell vs Bodemeister...I got $100 says they won't. They will wait for the Travers and beat a weak field again. When it is time for him to step up vs Older horses it will get even worse for him.  Racing aside, he is a very very impressive horse to look at, and is certainly a head turner.

Physically Imposing Fifty Proof 12 Jun 2012 12:14 AM

I don't know why some people can't just say great job Union Rags and move on. Why keep talking negative about him? He is definately one of the best 3 year olds on the track today. He has the speed and now everybody knows he can go the distance, and he's a great athlete. He also finally got a jockey who knows how to ride him. So all of us Rags fans say "Go Rags" keeping proving the skeptics wrong.

Tammy 12 Jun 2012 1:51 PM

I don't know why some people can't just say great job Union Rags and move on. Why keep talking negative about him? He is definately one of the best 3 year olds on the track today. He has the speed and now everybody knows he can go the distance, and he's a great athlete. He also finally got a jockey who knows how to ride him. So all of us Rags fans say "Go Rags" keeping proving the skeptics wrong.

Tammy 12 Jun 2012 1:53 PM

So how come over the pond they think the way to win at one and a half miles is to have a pacemaker, keep your horse covered up, and blow the field away with a fast finish?

They've been running the distance long enough to be respected, no?

Cassandra.Says 12 Jun 2012 3:25 PM

Cassandra Says,

Because of surface/footing. On dirt, speed is more dangerous because dirt favors high cruising speed (pace) and gradual deceleration (seen in these Belmont graphs); sudden acceleration is more difficult/taxing because the dirt basically slides out from underneath the foot when the horse pushes off.

Turf (generally speaking; obviously there are softness/hardness of turf considerations) allows for quick acceleration because the turf holds the foot in place as the horse pushes off, like a springboard.

Take two of the freakiest 12f performances ever: 1973 Belmont (dirt, Secretariat) and 2010 King George (turf, Harbinger). Secretariat: high average pace with a huge 2nd quarter-mile. Harbinger: steady pace then running a huge final quarter. Each style was dependent on the surface.

Ian Tapp 12 Jun 2012 5:05 PM

Of the two freakiest 12 furlong performance ever I always thought the early pace of Secretariat's old rival, Sham set him up for a commanding win like that. Harbinger running his huge final quarter in the King George brought back a great memory of another freaky running of that race in 1975 when the Derby winner Grundy beat the previous years St.Leger winner Bustino in the unheard of time for 12 furlongs at Ascot, 2.27. All three of them were outstanding racehorses but after there freaky King George's never were the same again and in fact they were all retired shortly thereafter.

John T 12 Jun 2012 10:39 PM


That reply to Casandra.Says made a lot of sense. I take from it your main point is that since dirt compromises the ability to accelerate, speed (velocity) is the more determining factor. So, I took your reasoning, and conclusion, and mulled it over for a few hours. What it brought me to was another aspect, that of cover. Here's my reasoning:- All else equal, the running racehorse is best served by being "under cover" (we see this more apparently with standardbred racing). We also see this more commonly in flat turf racing-and far less so with "dirt" racing. But, racing under cover does impose some risks, i.e. blockage from a clear trip-and this potential negative is further exacerbated over most US turf courses (and less so on many european courses-but their fields (#s of runners) are often greater). So, while being under cover may be advantangeous for almost all runners, the risk vs gain ratio may be greater for the dirt runner, since-owing to this surface- there is less ability to accelerate. The ability to instantly accelerate may be the best tool for extracation from a tight spot. I know, there may be some holes to this logic, but I came by it after recalling that most overseas turf sprinters-unlike many of our dirt sprinters-don't blaze out there, but instead prefer to take some cover (this is just my sense, as I have less experience viewing overseas sprint races)...Ian, it is, as you say, certainly true that dirt has a tendancy to "cup out" whereas with turf you're able to plant and push/pull, that such a dynamic would impede acceleration, and while your reasoning from there to its (your) conclusion flows well, I remain not totally convinced (applies to my addendum as well). One opposing thought was stimulated through the observation that many of our dirt sprinters are "bullets" out of the gate-able to run exceedingly swift first 1/4s-so, if dirt is such an inhibiting influence on acceleration, how are they able to accomplish this? My potential (short) answer is that we have bred them in a manner to compensate for this dirt/cupping factor. Another thought that occurred-and it's not much more than anecdote- re-the turf vs dirt, is tradition/fashion. What sticks in my mind is the Roberto, Brigadier Gerard Benson & Hedges. It created quite a stir here when Baeza, on Roberto, wired the field and defeated the previously undefeated Brigadier. The press at that time were quick to conclude that Baeza taught them a lesson with his use of American-style riding tactics. Who knows, probably just an anecdote that proves nothing...Actually, this entire topic has far ranging significance. It goes to the very heart of what makes (and how we should breed) the turf horse different from the dirt horse. As an aside, several years ago I was commisioned to evaluate a large broodmare band with the purpose of eliminating many of those that were turf oriented. This breeding/racing operation had accumulated through the years many european turf mares, but their stable now (then) raced exclusively on dirt. Well, we did eliminate some, but now, some years later, we find that the remaining turf mares (still many) have succeeded (as producers) as well as the dirt mares.            

sceptre 12 Jun 2012 11:33 PM

sceptre -  I think The Brigidier's King George effort really took a lot out of him and went into the B&H flat.  But hey a Miler stretched to 2400m was very very impressive.  Baeza may have won a a ice horse, but he did not school anyone.

Physically Imposing Fifty Proof 02 Jul 2012 4:48 PM

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