Ranking the Derbys: A Quantitative Analysis

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Treve
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Mon Apr 10, 2017 11:48 am

Tessablue wrote:
peeptoad wrote:How'd you get the information on the environmental parameters? I've never actually looked for that myself.
I guess my initial thought, assuming all this is accurate (no offense intended of course) is that some of the more touted or remembered Derby winners didn't exactly run the strongest of Derbies
I guess that's just further proof that the Derby is not the end-all be-all, and those horses were touted for different reasons.
Historical weather charts on Weather Underground. My life is deeply boring.

I did end up researching what other figure-makers do with wind speed, and the answer seems to be "just pick something and pray," because nobody really knows how to handle it. Wind speed is a fairly minor consideration here and I didn't take direction into account, in part because the horses make one full circuit of the track and in part because I can't do physics. But there were some interesting finds in this historical information: the strongest winds going back to 1970 were actually in 2008. If I had to pick a conclusion from here, it's that Big Brown was terribly underappreciated.
Forry Cow How wrote:Thanks for posting this. I find these scales fascinating and not something I could do myself. I'm NOT surprised Secretariat was a super horse. :lol: I was surprised that American Pharoah was so far down the list. And that Sunday Silence was last. Will be interesting to see how this year's Derby winner fits on the list.
Yeah, American Pharoah's race wasn't fast by really any figure standards that I can find. One aspect which may have affected this was ground- he ran about 29 feet further than Firing Line and 69 more than Dortmund- but that information only goes back to 2011 so unfortunately it doesn't really fit.

One funny thing about Sunday Silence: along the way, I actually found a couple articles from right after the Derby complaining about his performance! That race was very hyped and very disappointing to a lot of people. I suspect the Preakness made up for it, however ;)

(there is an adjustment for mud, but all muddy tracks are not the same so it's a tough factor to work with. )
Ah I'm glad you answered this because on a related note I was wondering myself if you took in Post Position into account when rating these KYDs. Maybe that could be a parameter to add if it isn't already - ie a horse winning from a post with a high win rate would be rated slightly down while a horse rating up would have to break from a stall with a low win rate, or be the sole winner from that gate #.
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Kennedy
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Mon Apr 10, 2017 11:56 am

Awesome work Tessa. This is right up my alley and I really wish my life had a little more boredom in it because this is just the kind of project I love to jump in to!

The first question I have is what method do you use to produce a projection? I've been dabbling with it this year since chef-de-race went offline and took their projections with them. But because I'm not that smart I really just ended up with a straight projection based off the fractions and beaten lengths at any call. It feels inexact though and I'd be interested to hear how you actually accomplish the "math".

One thought I had in terms of the Derby decline is to actually do a correlation study between the number of starts each winner had prior to the Derby.

I've been thinking about a theory in concept but what has a greater impact on a horses ability to run really fast? Age, current fitness or experience?
Obviously all three matter and it's tough to make a blanket statement for all horses. But the general decline in Derby performances may have a correlation to the fact that the runners in the Derby are more often making their 5th lifetime start than their 10th.

How many horses run their best lifetime effort in their 5th start?

I personally don't think horses are getting worse but I do wonder if the Derby is now scheduled at a time of year that is "sooner" in terms of the entrants development than in years past.
Tessablue
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Mon Apr 10, 2017 1:41 pm

Treve wrote: Ah I'm glad you answered this because on a related note I was wondering myself if you took in Post Position into account when rating these KYDs. Maybe that could be a parameter to add if it isn't already - ie a horse winning from a post with a high win rate would be rated slightly down while a horse rating up would have to break from a stall with a low win rate, or be the sole winner from that gate #.
That's an interesting consideration, but it would be very difficult to add because it would involve an element of speculation. There are two main challenges here: 1) the difficulty of certain post positions has changed over time (for example, the rail is now an almost guaranteed loss with modern field sizes, but previously it produced the most winners) and 2) there is considerably less data for outside vs. inside posts. There's also the fact that certain outside posts, such as the 14 and 15, are considered more advantageous than others. It's certainly something worth thinking about, thanks!

One way to get around that might be to include a field size consideration, but I'm not sure how to go about quantifying the effects. There were some very small fields in the 70's that may have influenced these figures by virtue of stretching the field out, but I'm not sure it's a big enough problem to merit a change at this time.
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Mon Apr 10, 2017 2:16 pm

Kennedy wrote:Awesome work Tessa. This is right up my alley and I really wish my life had a little more boredom in it because this is just the kind of project I love to jump in to!

The first question I have is what method do you use to produce a projection? I've been dabbling with it this year since chef-de-race went offline and took their projections with them. But because I'm not that smart I really just ended up with a straight projection based off the fractions and beaten lengths at any call. It feels inexact though and I'd be interested to hear how you actually accomplish the "math".

One thought I had in terms of the Derby decline is to actually do a correlation study between the number of starts each winner had prior to the Derby.

I've been thinking about a theory in concept but what has a greater impact on a horses ability to run really fast? Age, current fitness or experience?
Obviously all three matter and it's tough to make a blanket statement for all horses. But the general decline in Derby performances may have a correlation to the fact that the runners in the Derby are more often making their 5th lifetime start than their 10th.

How many horses run their best lifetime effort in their 5th start?

I personally don't think horses are getting worse but I do wonder if the Derby is now scheduled at a time of year that is "sooner" in terms of the entrants development than in years past.
Ha, thanks, I have to say I thought of you while writing this!

Regarding the methodology, some of it honestly is pretty hazy because it was several years ago and my notes are poorly organized. I know that I started by looking for the best predictor of final time. I looked at pretty much every fraction and combination of fractions, but ended up finding that 6f split had the best correlation with final time (and this relationship is surprisingly linear, all polynomial curves were basically the same). Assuming that exceptional and poor performances would distort this correlation, I took out the outliers and wet tracks to get a better line of fit and generated a starter linear equation. So as a disclaimer, I realize this is a recursive analysis, which is terrible! But there really is no dataset like the Derby, so I'd be hesitant to apply fractional correlations gathered from other races. I'm eager to keep collecting these over the years to refine the equation, and thus far it has proved a fairly reliable BSF predictor- for reference, I heard from a number of people in 2014 that their own self-generated figures equated to about a 103 beyer.

The wind stuff is fairly uninteresting- I just looked at whether or not races with high winds fell above or below that line of fit, then looked for a correlation between wind speed and reduced final time. It isn't huge, but it's there and again it's pretty linear, so I added that on as a modifier to final time. Finally, I researched what other people do with track surface and came up with a series of modifications for wet tracks, topping off at +1.3 seconds for sloppy (which lines up pretty well with Beyers again, although slop is tough to work with because it's always a different surface). This allowed me to generate the predicted vs. actual times and work from there.

So this is all basically a way to generate a Beyer without knowing track variant, and it worked pretty nicely for that, but I wanted another method for assessing quality, which is where the final margins came in. Under the assumption that fast races results in big margins, if not big win margins, I wanted to look at beaten lengths. After working with a lot of possibilities, I decided to average the beaten margin of 3rd and 6th place. I didn't want to punish horses for beating quality opponents by small margins, so I didn't do win margin. However, adding the 3rd place margin gives those big winners a slight bonus, while going to sixth gives a bonus to horses for stringing the field out late (incidentally, I found while going through the charts that 1st to 3rd is variable, but there's usually a bunching around 4th to 6th). My thought process here was that while field quality varies from race to race, it's likely about even by the time you get to that sixth tired horse. Unsurprisingly, most of the fastest races also had the biggest margin bonuses- but it helped smooth out some of the irregularities, such as Animal Kingdom's number (which was originally very high). This aspect has not been perfect because I think it punishes some horses too much, so I'd love to keep fiddling with it to improve it.

Long story short for the rest of it, I weighted margin by 1.5x, normalized the predicated vs. actual figure, combined the two, then ranked the horses against known beyers, looked for identical rankings and used that to generate a linear relationship between the two (and it was incredibly linear, like r squared of .99, which was interesting). So technically, these predicted beyers are relative to the assumption that Monarchos got a 116 and Giacomo got a 100, plus a few others. Even if not entirely accurate, this was a fun way to look at old races, and I think I might extend it back to 1960 (when the first "modern" race times started to pop up in the Derby). Another nice feature is the fact that this method can be applied to all Derby horses, not just winners.

As for career starts, that would be really interesting to look at! Perhaps I could see whether there is a relationship between how many starts they have made and what figure they receive. It's very hard to control for developmental stage, but it would make sense that horses start to run slower if they don't have the same foundation or aren't as far along developmentally.
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Treve
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Mon Apr 10, 2017 2:34 pm

Tessablue wrote:
Treve wrote: Ah I'm glad you answered this because on a related note I was wondering myself if you took in Post Position into account when rating these KYDs. Maybe that could be a parameter to add if it isn't already - ie a horse winning from a post with a high win rate would be rated slightly down while a horse rating up would have to break from a stall with a low win rate, or be the sole winner from that gate #.
That's an interesting consideration, but it would be very difficult to add because it would involve an element of speculation. There are two main challenges here: 1) the difficulty of certain post positions has changed over time (for example, the rail is now an almost guaranteed loss with modern field sizes, but previously it produced the most winners) and 2) there is considerably less data for outside vs. inside posts. There's also the fact that certain outside posts, such as the 14 and 15, are considered more advantageous than others. It's certainly something worth thinking about, thanks!

One way to get around that might be to include a field size consideration, but I'm not sure how to go about quantifying the effects. There were some very small fields in the 70's that may have influenced these figures by virtue of stretching the field out, but I'm not sure it's a big enough problem to merit a change at this time.
That's true, I guess one could calibrate/create a median per decade/field size but that definitely requires a lot of extra free time. Looking at a list dating from 2014, the winningest post at that point was #10 with 11.5% win rate. When Chrome won, he broke from #5, which has the second highest win rate. This of course only goes back to 1930 when starting gates were first used for the KYDerby. I don't think it's overall a huge determining factor when assessing the overall quality of a Derby winner but it certain can say something when a horse overcomes a supposedly bad position to go on and win anyway, I think.
I do like the other things brought up - career times, steroids use etc.
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Grade1
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Mon Apr 10, 2017 3:15 pm

Tessablue,

In May 1979, Andy Beyer wrote an article, “The Bid Belongs in Best -- Bid Ranks Right Behind Secretariat”, giving the adjusted times for each Derby winner from 1972-79, based on track variants he derived.

Secretariat 2:00
Affirmed 2:01
Spectacular Bid 2:01 1/5
Riva Ridge 2:01 4/5
Seattle Slew 2:02
Bold Forbes 2:02 1/5
Foolish Pleasure 2:02 2/5
Cannonade 2:04 1/5

You could compare the adjusted times, or the equivalent BSF differences, to your figures for a second opinion on those eight horses. You could also determine Beyer's track variants. For instance, I take Secretariat's adjusted time to mean that the track was 3/5 of a second faster than the average Derby track for the 1972-79 period.

I don't know whether you already have the original BSFs for Secretariat and Seattle Slew: 129 and 112. These figures can't be directly compared to today's figures, but the difference is close to what the adjusted times would imply.
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luvsgeldings
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Mon Apr 10, 2017 3:49 pm

thanks Tessa for this info! - makes me wonder what Beyer Sham would have gotten, given his final time running 2nd to Big Red that year - and I found the possible differences in Beyer's interesting for some of the derby winners.
Tessablue
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Mon Apr 10, 2017 5:04 pm

Grade1 wrote:Tessablue,

In May 1979, Andy Beyer wrote an article, “The Bid Belongs in Best -- Bid Ranks Right Behind Secretariat”, giving the adjusted times for each Derby winner from 1972-79, based on track variants he derived.

Secretariat 2:00
Affirmed 2:01
Spectacular Bid 2:01 1/5
Riva Ridge 2:01 4/5
Seattle Slew 2:02
Bold Forbes 2:02 1/5
Foolish Pleasure 2:02 2/5
Cannonade 2:04 1/5

You could compare the adjusted times, or the equivalent BSF differences, to your figures for a second opinion on those eight horses. You could also determine Beyer's track variants. For instance, I take Secretariat's adjusted time to mean that the track was 3/5 of a second faster than the average Derby track for the 1972-79 period.

I don't know whether you already have the original BSFs for Secretariat and Seattle Slew: 129 and 112. These figures can't be directly compared to today's figures, but the difference is close to what the adjusted times would imply.
Ooh this is a treasure trove, thank you! I was not aware that he had assigned a 129 to Secretariat, so I'm happy to see that they match up nicely. I'm a bit surprised to see Slew up that high because I read that his victory was not well-received contemporarily, but that's an especially interesting figure given what I know about Beyer's criticism of Slew back in that time! I know his figure suffered through my method because it wasn't super fast and his beaten lengths margins were among the lowest in the group (Charismatic rated last on this scale, as he was remarkably only 2.75 lengths ahead of sixth in that year). I don't currently have enough time to play around with those adjusted times, but I'll certainly do so for comparison's sake later. Thanks again for sharing them!

I do wonder, and have wondered in the past, just how reliable track variant is for Derbys. These days, by the time the race has come around there has been an almost two-hour gap since the last dirt race, in addition to changes in track maintenance, weather, and the current inevitability of few if any other two-turn dirt races in the card. Part of my motivation here was to look for alternative methods of evaluation because track variant is so difficult on Derby day, as said by the figure-makers themselves. I wonder if these calculations have become easier or more difficult over time?
luvsgeldings wrote:thanks Tessa for this info! - makes me wonder what Beyer Sham would have gotten, given his final time running 2nd to Big Red that year - and I found the possible differences in Beyer's interesting for some of the derby winners.
Through this method, he gets a +0.79 which is about a 123 :)

Unrelated, but some efforts that I came to appreciate much more upon this exercise: Unbridled, Spend a Buck, and Genuine Risk.
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Mon Apr 10, 2017 6:23 pm

The only aspect that interested me was the certainty that the fastest track conditions would be at the top and the slowest would nearer the bottom but not absolute bottom.

Speed ratings never fully account for the extremes, on either end but especially at the top. The fastest horses will take advantage of freeway conditions to post numbers that overstate their ability since mediocre horses in earlier races basically can't take full advantage of any type of condition. Therefore the overall track variant is not slanted as actual. I've bet enough races in other sports like swimming and speed skating to be fully aware of how that translates anywhere. When a notoriously fast speed skating oval like Calgary or Salt Lake City is on the docket the times will be projected as fast, but the final results will be even faster than that. Likewise when a slow heavy outdoor oval like Lake Placid is the venue the final times are assumed as slow and they'll be even slower.

From my memory the fastest track conditions were throughout 1973 and especially at Belmont Park. That was confirmed years later when I was in college and read Andy Beyer's book Picking Winners. I immediately went to the library and started compiling track variants using any reference that was available. At that point it was nearly a decade later but 7 of the 11 standing main track records at Belmont survived from a very short window from 1973. I did track variants for maybe a dozen tracks across the country. None of the other tracks had anything approaching that, so many records from a short time frame that had failed to be eclipsed for almost 10 years. It couldn't be coincidence or normalcy. Then during my Las Vegas decades I bet the over/under on final times almost every year, and I certainly was aware of those over/under times even if I didn't wager. In this thread I looked quickly for the Monarchos and Spend a Buck years because those were the two years in which the bettors pounded the under on the final time of the Derby prop. There were only two joints booking that prop in 1985 but by the Monarchos year the prop was all over the place and got slammed down. More often than not that Derby time prop is bet toward the over, and likewise with the Preakness and Belmont props. I think I've mentioned that I lost a ton when Bally's put up a seemingly low 2:27 on the 1988 Belmont over/under. It got bet up a full second to 2:28 but I didn't hedge at all. Then Risen Star ran away and ruined all of us with over tickets.

Sunday Silence wandered all over the place down the stretch of the 1989 Derby. Charlie Whittingham in post race interviews said he ran green but didn't seem particularly bothered by it. However, that serpentine stretch run became a big overblown topic leading to the Preakness.
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Mon Apr 10, 2017 11:33 pm

oh Tessa.... thanks for that fig for Sham - love it! that's so outstanding - he certainly deserved it - thanks again so much for the info!!
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Tue Apr 11, 2017 12:12 am

Tessablue wrote:Incidentally, according to contemporary reporting, Secretariat was considered by some a harbinger of what steroids would bring to the sport.
I'm sorry, but this is where I need to step into the discussion. Could you please point me to the contemporary reporting you are referring to? Not only was I an eyewitness to Secretariat's career and read most of the reporting about him at the time, but I knew Lucien Laurin. I was privileged to spend a full day with him at Santa Anita a couple of years before his death. We talked a lot about his career and, of course, about Secretariat. I was his host and it was a private day at the races with him. Lucien said he never gave Secretariat any drugs. The horse raced clean his entire career. Whether or not you want to believe me, this is the truth. This was long after Secretariat's death, and Lucien was retired and living in Florida. He was in Southern California for an event celebrating the 25th anniversary of Secretariat's Triple Crown.

If you want to call Lucien Laurin a liar 17 years after his death, well...his son, Roger, is still alive although at 81, I don't know the current state of his health. Ron Turcotte is a wonderful man who used to answer letters. Perhaps you could write to him about this matter. Maybe he will respond.
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Tue Apr 11, 2017 8:17 am

I have a bridge I can sell you.
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Tessablue
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Tue Apr 11, 2017 9:42 am

Ridan_Remembered wrote:
Tessablue wrote:Incidentally, according to contemporary reporting, Secretariat was considered by some a harbinger of what steroids would bring to the sport.
I'm sorry, but this is where I need to step into the discussion. Could you please point me to the contemporary reporting you are referring to? Not only was I an eyewitness to Secretariat's career and read most of the reporting about him at the time, but I knew Lucien Laurin. I was privileged to spend a full day with him at Santa Anita a couple of years before his death. We talked a lot about his career and, of course, about Secretariat. I was his host and it was a private day at the races with him. Lucien said he never gave Secretariat any drugs. The horse raced clean his entire career. Whether or not you want to believe me, this is the truth. This was long after Secretariat's death, and Lucien was retired and living in Florida. He was in Southern California for an event celebrating the 25th anniversary of Secretariat's Triple Crown.

If you want to call Lucien Laurin a liar 17 years after his death, well...his son, Roger, is still alive although at 81, I don't know the current state of his health. Ron Turcotte is a wonderful man who used to answer letters. Perhaps you could write to him about this matter. Maybe he will respond.
Please read my sentence more carefully before you take offense to it.

Anyways, here is one of the articles I was referring to- https://www.si.com/vault/1974/02/18/617 ... l-him-sexy
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Tue Apr 11, 2017 12:29 pm

I think War Emblem's Derby often falls out of people's memory, because the horse himself was one of those flash in the pan types when it came to the TC. But it really was an eye-popping way to win the Derby and I'm happily reminded of that thanks to his high placing. I love that angry dude.
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Treve
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Tue Apr 11, 2017 6:31 pm

Tessablue wrote:
Ridan_Remembered wrote:
Tessablue wrote:Incidentally, according to contemporary reporting, Secretariat was considered by some a harbinger of what steroids would bring to the sport.
I'm sorry, but this is where I need to step into the discussion. Could you please point me to the contemporary reporting you are referring to? Not only was I an eyewitness to Secretariat's career and read most of the reporting about him at the time, but I knew Lucien Laurin. I was privileged to spend a full day with him at Santa Anita a couple of years before his death. We talked a lot about his career and, of course, about Secretariat. I was his host and it was a private day at the races with him. Lucien said he never gave Secretariat any drugs. The horse raced clean his entire career. Whether or not you want to believe me, this is the truth. This was long after Secretariat's death, and Lucien was retired and living in Florida. He was in Southern California for an event celebrating the 25th anniversary of Secretariat's Triple Crown.

If you want to call Lucien Laurin a liar 17 years after his death, well...his son, Roger, is still alive although at 81, I don't know the current state of his health. Ron Turcotte is a wonderful man who used to answer letters. Perhaps you could write to him about this matter. Maybe he will respond.
Please read my sentence more carefully before you take offense to it.

Anyways, here is one of the articles I was referring to- https://www.si.com/vault/1974/02/18/617 ... l-him-sexy
That was a very interesting read and a fun time capsule of sorts.
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Tue Apr 11, 2017 8:04 pm

Tessablue wrote:Please read my sentence more carefully before you take offense to it.

Anyways, here is one of the articles I was referring to- https://www.si.com/vault/1974/02/18/617 ... l-him-sexy
@Tessablue: Two things about that hyperbolic SI article from the time before Secretariat actually started covering TB mares and getting them nicely in foal. (1) The stuff in the article about steroids as related to Secretariat and Riva Ridge is 100% pure speculation. (2) In that very article, Lucien Laurin said pretty much the same thing he told me 25 years later...that he did not give Red such substances. Also, the article's speculation about steroid use is totally contradicted in the same article when it talks about how Mrs. Tweedy didn't even want her colts to be sedated when they first got to Claiborne.

@Somnambulist: I'm not sure who your comment about a bridge to sell is aimed at, but if you're up for a bit of research on the internet, see if you can find anything about the 25th anniversary of Secretariat's TC and the fact that Lucien flew to SoCal to attend the event. I invited him and was his host. In fact, I invited Ron Turcotte also, but he wasn't traveling as much then as he does now. Instead, he sent me an autographed print of Secretariat winning the Derby.

I 100% believed Lucien Laurin when he said Secretariat never was given steroids, and still do to this day. Look at this photo of Secretariat at three months, and you can already see the powerful musculature that he became known for during his career. http://ep.yimg.com/ca/I/secretariatcom_2271_60324436

Lastly, if steroid use was so widespread at racetracks in the early 1970's, how come all the trainers of all the other horses who raced against Red didn't use steroids to beat him? Among the top stakes winners Secretariat defeated were: Linda's Chief, Stop the Music, Angle Light, Knightly Dawn, Sham, Shecky Greene, Forego, Our Native, Royal and Regal, Cougar II, Kennedy Road, Riva Ridge, Key to the Mint, Summer Guest, Tentam, Big Spruce, and London Company. Several of them are in the Hall of Fame.

Please do not tear this great horse -- or any horse -- down just to make a point. I can't stand Baffert so have a hard time rooting for his horses. But there isn't a single one of the horses he trains that I would tear down for any reason. It just isn't right to retroactively smear a horse who gave so much to this sport and his trainer, both of whom are long gone.
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Tue Apr 11, 2017 8:24 pm

Just because his trainer said he wasn't at a promo event really doesn't mean anything one way or the other.

Truthfully I don't see how anyone could take issue with this thread - the entire thing was so objective that the only way you can possibly have taken issue with it is if you were looking too.

Comments like this are why we can't have nice things.
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Treve
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Tue Apr 11, 2017 9:07 pm

Nowhere did Tessablue state or even imply that Secretariat was on steroids. Tb's sentence was actually pretty clearly written out "[...]considered by some[...]" You are taking umbrage to something that was never said, by people that aren't even here.

You can take issue with the notion that some people believe he was roided out, but no one here actually insinuated that was even remotely a fact. Though wrongfully that it may have been, he was used as an example by contemporaries of what might happened - those comments, rather than whether they were factual or preposterous, were simply used here as a comparison to the comments we still make to this day about how medications impact the sport and the breed.
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Ridan_Remembered
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Tue Apr 11, 2017 10:17 pm

Somnambulist wrote:Truthfully I don't see how anyone could take issue with this thread
I have no issue with this thread. The subject is a worthwhile one for discussion. However, I will defend Secretariat's reputation and that of Mr. Laurin who is deceased and not able to defend himself.
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Ridan_Remembered
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Tue Apr 11, 2017 10:34 pm

Treve wrote:Nowhere did Tessablue state or even imply that Secretariat was on steroids.
And this is where I disagree...here is the full statement: "This actually lines up pretty well with the steroid ban, which was around ~2009. Incidentally, according to contemporary reporting, Secretariat was considered by some a harbinger of what steroids would bring to the sport. I would need to do some more reading, but I believe steroid use began (or at least was known about) in the 60's or early 70's at the latest."

What other interpretation can there be for this statement other than the implication that Red was on steroids? The statement, "Secretariat was considered by some a harbinger of what steroids would bring to the sport" can have no other interpretation.

This thread started as a fine analysis of the relative performances of Derby winners since 1970. It quickly veered off track into a discussion of steroid use, and Secretariat was used as the example of performances pre vs. post steroid ban. I will go to my grave and beyond loving that horse and respecting his connections. I mean no disrespect to anyone here and did not wish to cause discomfort for anyone posting on this thread. But linking Secretariat to steroid use caused me genuine discomfort. What's fair is fair. I'm only asking for folks to avoid impugning the integrity of those who are no longer here to defend themselves.
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