Are Racehorses getting Faster 1A - 17 November 2003 -- Jerry Brown

Part one of this discussion raised some questions that prompted me to have a follow-up conversation with NYRA track superintendent Jerry Porcelli. Some quick points, and I'll get to part two as soon as I can.

1-- During the 80's many tracks on the East Coast switched from clay bases to limestone bases.

2-- The percentage of sand was increased at Saratoga and Aqueduct in 1988. They upped the percentage at Belmont around 1994, and the percentage gradually increased on its own due to the way the track was maintained until Porcelli became in charge in 2002. He changed the maintenance routine, and they monitor sand content now closely.

3-- When Najran ran the 1:32:1 mile at Belmont on opening day this Spring, the cushion was 3 1/2 inches. Jerry added half an inch of cushion that night, but it was tough to make an immediate comparison because it rained overnight. By the next week, following the dark days, the track in Jerry's estimation was the same as it was the day Najran ran, save for being deeper-- meaning soil content was the same,and moisture content (which Jerry measures by taking a piece of the track, weighing it, baking it, then weighing it again) was roughly the same. In fact there was some variability in the track speed that week, but the range was from about 5 to 10 points slower than the day Najran ran, meaning 1 to 2 seconds different at six furlongs. (By the way, you're not going to believe this, but there is one figure maker who assumes the track stays the same speed overnight unless it rains).

That was with the addition of 1/2 inch of cushion. As I mentioned in part one, Jerry says the cushion Secretariat and others raced over in New York in the 70's ranged from 2 3/4 to 3 1/4 inches, or about another half inch less than Najran raced over. How fast would Najran gone over that track?

It would be interesting to get detailed information from other tracks, and to see if it is possible to work out some similar correlations. Even so, those correlations can only be valid for comparative purposes if all other things stay the same, and as we have seen, they do not. I don't know the nature or number of changes at each individual track, but I know enough not to assume things stay the same, which is the only way you could compare raw times from different eras.

And all of this, of course, is why we make performance figures-- to compare horses that run under different conditions, on different days.