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By Keith Pettyjohn — Will the real Serengeti Empress please stand up?

Back when I was a child, we would gather together in the evenings to watch the one television we owned. It came with a built-in human remote control… Me.

Since I was the youngest, I was tasked with adjusting the rabbit-eared antennas and also changing the channel at my parent’s command by using the vice-gripped pliers since the TV knobs already had been broken off.

I remember that on Tuesday nights at 8pm, there was a program called To Tell The Truth. On this show there were two imposters and one genuine character. The goal was to identify which of the three people was the real thing.

That’s how handicappers must feel now as they continue handicapping any race involving Serengeti Empress.

When she chooses to run her race, Serengeti Empress can be downright impressive. But when she decides to call it quits after six or seven furlongs into a 1-1/16 or 1-1/8 miles route, we are left scratching our heads, wondering what went wrong.

From her past performance lines, I’m focusing on her last two races after she won the Grade 2 Azeri Stakes at Oaklawn Park back in March, starting with the Grade 1 Apple Blossom on April 18.

In the Apple Blossom, Ce Ce and Ollie’s Candy out-broke her in an effort to get the front. At that point, rider Joe Talamo made the decision not to use any more energy to get get the front.

Unfortunately, that’s really the only running style that works for this filly: She shows a ton of early speed getting to the lead then goes as far as she can as long as she can.

After the race was over, the FOX Sports crew focused on her trainer Tom Amoss for his post-race comments. Amoss often serves as a handicapping analyst on Fox racing broadcasts.

The look on Amoss’ face, the tone of his voice, and the words he spoke, let us know clearly that he was not happy with the ride his filly got on this day and informed the viewing audience that he’d be speaking with the rider about why he didn’t stick to the game plan.

It appears that “talk” must have worked. The horse ran next in the Grade 2 Fleur De Lis Stakes at Churchill, June 27th. In this race Talamo sent her immediately to the front, set evenly pace fractions of 23.18, 46.16 and 1:09.74.

Basically, she ran each quarter in about 23 seconds and called it a day after setting those fractions, fading to fourth and finishing in the middle of the seven-filly lineup.

Tom Amoss is a masterful horseman and learned a few things about his horse that day.

Armed with that knowledge and the foundation gained by racing forwardly in a nine furlong race, Amoss put three fast half-miles into her, proper preparation for last Saturday’s seven furlong Grade 1 Ballerina at Saratoga.

She responded to her training regimen by lighting up the track early with an opening quarter in 21.75 and a half mile in a blazing 43.74, fast fractions for this distance.

But on this day the real Serengeti Empress showed up. Her effort was truly valiant and now can add a second Grade 1 title to her resume, not to mention that the winner’s share of $180,000 brought her lifetime bankroll to just shy of $2-million.

Kudos to Tom Amoss and thank you from her fans and bettors for allowing the real Serengeti Empress to show up. Now let’s take a deeper look into the post-race figures.

For her efforts, Serengeti Empress earned a 101 Class-Based GSR Performance Figure, a very solid number for a classy animal. Placing this figure in perspective, a filly named Gamine ran four-fifths of a second faster three races later.

However, Gamine received a 96 Class-Based Performance Figure for her efforts. How can that be? Let’s take an even deeper dive. 

Even though there are lots of data points that are collected for each race, let’s focus on the key four factors that are the driving force behind the figures:

Speed (adjusted for track variant); Pace (adjusted for track variant), Field Size, and Class. [We later verify the posted fractions and final time independently].

The raw speed figures are 100 for Serengeti Empress and 102 for Gamine. So Gamine’s race was faster, no doubt about that. 

Now the fractions for the Ballerina were 21.75 and 43.74 but the splits for the Test were 22.70 and 45.14. Pace advantage to Serengeti Empress. Now let’s look at field size.

Seven horses went post-ward in the Ballerina but only five in the Test. Once again, advantage Ballerina Stakes.

But what separates Class-Based GSR Performance Figures from all other speed and pace figures available is Class.

In the Test Stakes, the three year old fillies collectively made 25 total lifetime starts, winning 12 and earning $1.3 million dollars lifetime. Three of the five horses were Graded Stakes winners.

The Ballerina Stakes tells a much different story. Those horses made 107 lifetime starts, won 44, and made almost $6-million. Of those, all seven were graded stakes winners.

The class edge clearly belonged to this race. When the overall ratings were computed to determine the class of each race, the Test Stakes earned a “B” grade while the Ballerina earned an “A”.

When the speed and pace figures are measured against the class in each race, and when field size is factored into the mix, it becomes apparent why Serengeti Empress received a rating 5 points above that of Gamine.

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12 Responses

  1. Keith, This is something our mutual — or should I should I say pari-mutuel — friend, the late, great Cary Fotias, always talked about:

    The day you stop learning in this game is the day you should think about walking away. So, thanks for the lesson…

  2. Good stuff. I suspected the extra effort SE made in rushing up to the lead might have resulted in her race being slightly better than it looked, but I never would have thought it would outshine Gamine. But I respect the class utilization.

  3. I started in the standardbred game in 1970 and the thoroughbred game in 1988. I immersed myself in the Beyer Speed Figures when they became available in the “Racing Times” back in the early 90’s. Once the “Pace Makes The Race” book came out, I began incorporating that logic into my handicapping as well. But it was my conversations with the late, great Cary Fotias that led me down this path to find a way to incorporate class into a figure. It was truly a daunting task but it has been very enlightening. It’s also amazing to see how Class-Based Performance Figures can sometimes tell a different story than your traditional speed and pace figures.

  4. enjoyed the article – and thanks for reminding me also i to was the remote control and rabbit ear holder for our black & white tv that on a good day got 3 to 5 channels. Also we only watched what dad wanted to – westerns.

  5. Hey Kim,
    Thanks for reading it. It looks like all of our predictions came true this weekend.
    Uncle Chuck was a major play against
    Victim of Love would hit the board
    American Sailor would lead until deep stretch and still hang on for a piece
    Gamine was a lock
    South Bend would run 3rd or fourth
    But Caracaro…….if this horse wasn’t 2 to 3 months behind these others in his development, he could be a MAJOR player.

  6. Agree – we did good – two heads are better than one – unless you are married – then you only know two words – Yes Dear – and all is good in the world – right ? I agree 100% about Caracaro – I DO LIKE THE HORSE ALOT – But I just do not see him making up the ground needed to beat The Law or Art C. over the next 4 weeks— My goodness what a nice race Sat. by The Law.
    I am sticking with my top 5 we talked about for the Derby : Tiz The Law – Art Collector – Honor A. P. – NY Traffic – Caracaro .
    Not going to get carried this year on betting the Derby —
    Only one .50 TRI bet – either 2x5x5 or 3x5x5 – bet could be smaller or not at all if horses drop out. And one must always factor in post position to a degree.
    Question – – How many horses will drop out of the Derby ?
    i do not believe 20 will be in the gate. Would be better for other horses to run in other stakes races – but Derby fever can mess with the mind and make people do things they should not do.

    1. Right on Kim, Derby Fever is a rather virulent strain.

      Yes, it looks like form will held–it has been since the point system was instituted but perhaps post draw just a tad less important for two reasons:

      We may not get 20 in the gate but if we do, they will leave from one gate so the rail, in theory anyway, won’t be the hindrance it normally was when an auxiliary was in play…

  7. you are correct John – one gate is better than the two – wish Churchill would have bought one before the 2020 race – not like they could not afford it – but better late than never. At least we will have a Derby this year and i saw today that 23k will be allowed in – although not in the grandstand or standing room only area. But hey – we still have the TV to watch, places to go bet , and can enjoy the sport. Have to play with the hand we are dealt–so it is not all bad — something is better than nothing.

  8. KP,
    If the next race for both Gamine and SE were the BC F&M Sprint, would you consider SE the more likely winner?

    Looking at the following raw data, I’m forced to conclude that Gamine’s performance last Saturday was superior to that of any other entrant in both races. And she is likely to continue improving as a 3YO!

    Ballerina 3YO+ F&M winner by 1 length,
    Serengeti Empress – GSRPF: 101

    :21-3, :43-3. 1:08-1, 1:21-3

    Final 3/8 – :38, final 1/8 – :13-2

    Test 3YO F – winner by 7 lengths,
    Gamine – GSRPF: 96

    :22-3, :45, 1:08-3, 1:20-4

    Final 3/8 – :35-4, final 1/8 – :12-1

    It is only the figure for Gamine that I am questioning, and I respect the methodology you’ve shared so far.

  9. Indulto
    From a pure speed perspective you are correct, Gamine earned a 102 where SE earned a 100. But my class-based performance figures, tell a different story because of the class that each had to face in each race. So far, Gamine is yet to beat a quality field and to handle any adversity thrown her way. I’m expecting her next start to tell us a lot about her on the first Friday in September.

    As we all know from being around this game for any length of time, that betting the best speed and pace figures only can lead one straight to the poor house. There are a ton of horses in races every single day that have the best speed and pace figures, yet a lot of them lose, especially the ones that are raised in class to face tougher competition and that have to face some adversity versus having things their own way which is typically out on the front end dictating the pace .

    1. KP,
      Thanks for responding.

      HRI is at its best when it generates entertaining debate from respectful disagreement.

      While I agree that Gamine was not challenged to the extent SE was, IMO the final fractions indicate the former would have run even faster if she had to, and I’m among those who regard multiple obviously brilliant exhibitions of speed as an indicator of class (see Acorn).

      I just read that Gamine is being pointed toward the Kentucky Oaks and a meeting with Alabama winner, Swiss Skydiver who also won for fun. I hope you’ll share your numbers for the latter in her last two races.

      I totally agree with your last paragraph. Relying heavily on speed, pace, and derivatives thereof, have not helped my efforts to become a profitable win bettor following the ’70s. Consequently I now only play vertical exotics, but staying in the black is proving difficult this year.

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