When Spectacular Bid won the Laurel Futurity on Saturday, he did not merely prove he is the best Maryland-bred racehorse in years. He merited comparisons with such great thoroughbreds as Secretariat and Affirmed, who also clinched the 2-year-old championship in the Futurity and went on to capture the triple Crown.
Such comparisons of horses from different generations might seem necessarily to be a matter of guesswork or instinct. But practitioners of the arcane science of speed handicapping possess methods for making those evaluations with some precision.
Speed handicappers believe that the ability of horses is measured by how fast they run. They know, however, the times of races cannot be taken at face value, because the condition of tracks change frequently and drastically. Spectacular bid was able to break a track record only because Laurel speeded up its racing strip to oblige trainer Buddy Delp. But how much was the track souped up?
One way to measure the speed of a track is to compare the time of which race run over it with the average for its class. The average time for a six-furlong $5,000 claiming race in Maryland is 1:11 4/5. A $5,000 race actually run in 1:11 would suggest that the strip was four-fifths of a second fast.
By making such comparisons for all the races on a program, and striking an average, a speed handicapper cn measure and express the inherent fastness or slowness of a track over which Spectacular Bid ran Saturday with the racing strip on any Futurity day of the past.
I have applied the techniques of the speed handicapping to Laurel races for the last seven years. If all of the Futurity entrants had run on Saturday's racetrack, these would have been the five fastest times: (TABLE) Affirmed (1977) (COLUMN)1:41(COLUMN)1/5 Alydar (1977)(COLUMN)1:41(COLUMN)1/5 Secretartiat (1972)(COLUMN)1:41(COLUMN)2/5 Spectacular Bid (1978)(COLUMN)1:41(COLUMN)3/5 Honest Pleasure (1975)(COLUMN)1:41(COLUMN)4/5(END TABLE)
The horses who performed slightly better than Spectacular Bid are ones whose brillance has been amply verified. A speed-handicapping analysis of recent runnings of Belmont Park's Champagne Stakes makes Spectacualr Bid look even more thab Affirmed, faster than Seattle Siew.
The colt has all the necessary potential to be a Kentucky Derby winner, a Triple Crown winner. But 2-year-old promise does not always translate into 3-year-old performance. Honest Pleasure, the 1975 Futurity winner, never quite lived up to his potential. Royal Ski, the 1976 winner, was a virtual basket case as a 3-year-old.
A thoroughbred's development form year is determined partly by his physiology, and partly by the training he receives.
Horses who win the Triple Crown races are, more often than not, managed by men with prior experience in the big leagues of racing. When a thoroughbred with great ability appears in the hinterlands, he often fails to develop because his trainer finds himself out of his element. This is the fate that befell the last good Maryland 3-year-old, Cormorant. (See BEYER, D4, Col 6> (BEYER, From D1> Delp is probably better equipped than any Maryland trainer to cope with the challenge ahead. He had adapted to the changing conditions of the sport and stayed on top of his profession for more than a decade. He has had the experience of managing high-class stakes horses What A Summer, Ecole Etage and Sweet Afflicance. He has never trained a horse like Spectacular Bid before but that can be said of just about every trainer alive.