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.