1.5 Mile Runners (06/02/14)

John Ewing, Director of Research and Analytics, @johnewing
Handicapping the Belmont: What does it really mean for a racehorse to run one and a half miles?

The third leg of the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes, is known as “The Test of the Champions” and for good reason. The Belmont is the longest of the three Triple Crown races and it is this length that defines the race.

Most major racetracks are a mile long in circumference. The Belmont is a mile and a half. The track is so big that it encompasses two other tracks inside it: the Widener Turf Course (1 and 5/16 miles) and the Inner Turf Course (1 and 3/16 miles).

The Main Track, nicknamed “Big Sandy”, can be deceptive to the casual fan as the extra distance may seem insignificant as it still has the far turn and stretch the way a mile oval does. For many horses, the mile and a half longer distance is more than they have run in their careers.

This begs the questions: how do you handicap a race when the horses running have not competed at this distance?

We analyzed every 12 furlong race in the last year race, then all of the previous races for each horse that participated in a race of 12 furlongs (1 and 1/2 miles). In total, we evaluated the results of over a 1,000 races.

The key finds are the correlations between distance and the Four Furlong Pace Figure. There is a strong negative correlation between distance and the Four Furlong Pace Figure. This means that the longer the race (8, 10, 12 furlongs), the slower the first Four Furlongs. There is no significant correlation between distance and the Final Pace Figure.

The Four Furlong Pace Figure was meaningfully correlated to the extra distance. This relates to how a horse manages its energy over the course of a race. Colts that have learned to manage their energy will fair best over the mile and a half course leaving the runners in position to contend down around the far turn and in the stretch.

The winning horses of 12 furlong races also have spreads (difference between Final and Four Furlong Pace Figure) that are approximately three and half times larger than horses that win at other distances. This again states the importance of a horse managing its energy over the course of a 12 furlong race. This ability to control one's pace is a trait California Chrome has exhibited in the previous two Triple Crown races.

Horse Final Pace Figure Four Furlong Pace Figure
12 Furlong Winners 68.14 52.54
All other winners 66.25 61.99

Will California Chrome be the horse that manages its energy the best in the Belmont? Read our full Belmont Analysis to find out.


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