Ranking the Derbys: A Quantitative Analysis

Ranking the Derbys: A Quantitative Analysis

Postby Tessablue » Sun Apr 09, 2017 3:41 pm

I know, this isn't the most exciting Derby year in recent memory... but hopefully there's still some enthusiasm for discussion and debate!

The story here... in 2013, California Chrome's victory in the Derby invoked outrage and confusion: it was slow. Really slow, going by the final time. Yet Chrome was a good horse, so what happened? Was it the strong wind or moderate pace, or was it simply because Chrome was a slow horse? He received a record-low 97 beyer for the race, and the debate raged on. In the midst of this controversy, I decided to mathematically examine all of the factors which may have contributed to his final time, in an effort to determine whether the performance was better or worse than it looked. The endeavor sort of mutated from there, and I was able to apply the resulting formula, tweaked over the years, to every Derby winner since 1970. Because this is incredibly lame and I would love to generate some discussion over it, I'm sharing it with you guys to see what you think.

Disclaimer: this is meant to encourage discussion, not anger! It started as an experiment and it is not even close to the best way to analyze these races, but I thought it provided some interesting results and springboards for discussion. To me, many of these numbers feel right, which is hardly a good way to judge results. I would love to hear whether you guys think they make sense!

I'll elaborate on the methodology if asked to, but basically I generated figures based on pace and wind speed to produce a "predicted" time which I then compared to the actual time. I next combined this time figure with a slightly higher-weighted field margin component, then I roughly "translated" the generated Derby Figures into BSFs in order to make for an easier frame of reference. Unlike BSFs, the lower the Derby Figure, the better. The results are as shown below:
Image

Some starter questions:
-Which of these results surprised you, and why?
-Which Derbys have you felt are historically under- or overrated? Do the numbers above support or refute your opinion?
-Do you believe that Kentucky Derby quality has declined over time? Do the results above affect your opinion on this matter at all, or do you think there are potential methodological issues that make it impossible to compare figures over time?
-What, in your opinion, defines a great Kentucky Derby performance?

(thanks to everyone who actually read this far...)
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Re: Ranking the Derbys: A Quantitative Analysis

Postby Matt Converse » Mon Apr 10, 2017 2:20 am

The thing that pops in to my mind looking at the list is what year were steroids banned?
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Re: Ranking the Derbys: A Quantitative Analysis

Postby BaroqueAgain1 » Mon Apr 10, 2017 2:45 am

Well, it would have to be after Big Brown, so...maybe sometime in 2009?
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Re: Ranking the Derbys: A Quantitative Analysis

Postby peeptoad » Mon Apr 10, 2017 6:33 am

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.
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Re: Ranking the Derbys: A Quantitative Analysis

Postby Forry Cow How » Mon Apr 10, 2017 7:34 am

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.
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Re: Ranking the Derbys: A Quantitative Analysis

Postby Tessablue » Mon Apr 10, 2017 8:29 am

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. )
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Re: Ranking the Derbys: A Quantitative Analysis

Postby Tessablue » Mon Apr 10, 2017 8:35 am

By the way, here are the median figures for each decade:

10's: 104
00's: 112
90's: 107
80's: 106
70's: 110

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. Personally I'm not sure why there was a dropoff, I think a lot of factors are likely at play here. It's hard to deny that it was very sudden.

I think it's also interesting that a lot of the "underrated" performances were in the late 2000's, which may have been the decade with the highest-quality performances on average (70's had a lot of standout and several duds). Some of the biggest disagreements are with Big Brown, Animal Kingdom and Mine that Bird. Animal Kingdom had a bizarre pace setup and Mine that Bird came out of nowhere which may explain those two, but I would also suspect that the track has been more souped-up as late, which results in proportionally lower Beyers.
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Re: Ranking the Derbys: A Quantitative Analysis

Postby peeptoad » Mon Apr 10, 2017 8:37 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.

Fair enough on the wind speeds.... that's something, boring life or not, I likely wouldn't engage in simply because, eh, weather. Meh.
I think Big Brown was far and away the class of his crop that year. Other than that I take a respectful grain with your comment, knowing your personal affinity for him. ;)

Overall, that was interesting... nice job. :)
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Re: Ranking the Derbys: A Quantitative Analysis

Postby Tessablue » Mon Apr 10, 2017 8:39 am

peeptoad wrote:Fair enough on the wind speeds.... that's something, boring life or not, I likely wouldn't engage in simply because, eh, weather. Meh.
I think Big Brown was far and away the class of his crop that year. Other than that I take a respectful grain with your comment, knowing your personal affinity for him. ;)

Overall, that was interesting... nice job. :)

Hahaha totally fair! I promise that number emerged organically :D

(The weather consideration was a result of the popular discourse in 2014, which was that the time was slow because of strong headwinds. It doesn't help a lot, but it also doesn't seem likely that he ran the slowest Derby in decades.)
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Re: Ranking the Derbys: A Quantitative Analysis

Postby peeptoad » Mon Apr 10, 2017 8:42 am

Tessablue wrote:Animal Kingdom had a bizarre pace setup and Mine that Bird came out of nowhere which may explain those two, but I would also suspect that the track has been more souped-up as late, which results in proportionally lower Beyers.


I still maintain that Mine That Bird had altitude conditioning and that, along with the state the track was in that day, contributed to his success. The gradual drop-off in MTB's subsequent races also tilts toward this type of conditioning which, in humans, can have a temporary, but dwindling effect over a period of weeks after being removed from the altitude conditions.
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