By Bob Ehalt
Not all grade I stakes are equal. The same goes for optional claimers.
One of the more confusing elements of Thoroughbred racing is that while there are close to 100 venues across the country, only a limited number of classifications exist for its upper-tier races.
For anyone involved in bloodstock, weighing the importance of individual races is of paramount importance and relying on generalizations is hardly a trustworthy key to success. Most Belmont Park allowance races might have stronger fields than similar races at Thistledown, but there are exceptions. There are times when a grade III stakes like the Ohio Derby (gr. III) will produce a faster winner than the grade I Florida Derby.
To make better sense of so many variables, one of the best tools comes from Ragozin Data speed figures.
Now a part of The Blood-Horse's Auction Edge sale guides, Ragozin speed figures have been one of the racing industry's best means for determining the true speed of a race and comparing two efforts at different tracks that are clocked in 1:09.60.
Aside from weighing final time, other important factors like ground-loss, weight carried, and wind are added to the mix in the determination of a speed figure. Lower figures are faster on the Ragozin scale and because of the methodology it's not unusual that a horse who finished second will earn a superior figure than the winner.
Such sophisticated figures are invaluable in assessing the quality of progeny, and the Auction Edge's listing of career-best Ragozin figures for the subject horses in a sale and for racehorses under the first two dams provide a snapshot of the speed and talent inherent in equine families. A mare might have produced four offspring that earned black type, but if none registered a figure better than a 12 they would basically be on a par with lower-end claimers in New York.
Even the nation's best races have peaks and valleys and all Kentucky Derby (gr. I) victors are not created equal. Most Derby winners fall into a range of 0 to 4 1/2 for their efforts on the first Saturday in May. Of the last 14 Derby winners, 13 fit that description. The lone exception? Giacomo, the 50-1 winner of the 2005 Derby. The fastest winners? Big Brown in 2008 (a negative 3/4), followed by Monarchos in 2001 (a negative 1/4). Keeping those numbers in mind, seeing a series of 2's and 3's in a horse's bloodlines indicates there's an abundance of speed in its family and paints a promising picture of success on the racetrack.
While Ragozin figures are based on performance, it's important to keep in mind that age can add luster to a figure. The nation's best older males might crank out 2's and 3's on a regular basis, but figures like that from a 2-year-old are highly unusual.
In some cases, it's remarkable, which helps to explain much of the furor sparked by Uncle Mo 's juvenile campaign in 2010. In his debut, Uncle Mo ran a 2 1/2, a figure faster than Animal Kingdom 's 3 1/4 in the 2011 Derby.
Uncle Mo never developed into a classic winner, but he surely had ability. Finding another young horse with similar potential is never easy, but with the help of Ragozin speed figures there's at least a way to fill in some of the blanks.