I touched briefly upon track variants yesterday, but I feel it is important to delve into the subject a bit further. Many handicappers are convinced that it is necessary to adjust the running times and/or speed ratings of a horse based on “daily track variants.” They have come to believe that the surface of a race track somehow changes enough from one day to the next to affect the outcome of races. Assuming their belief is correct, how do you accurately measure such variants?
If you are to believe the Daily Racing Form, Andrew Beyer, and a host of others, track variants can be measured. Beyer does this by comparing the times run on any given day with par times (average times) for the class and distance of every race contested that day. If he comes across a day where six of nine races were run in times slower than par, he might conclude the track was slower than “normal,” despite the fact that three of the races were run in times that were equal to or faster than the par times they were compared to. He might also conclude there was nothing abnormal about the track. Unfortunately, what can only be, at best, a subjective decision, is now arbitrarily made by computers.
While the speed of a racetrack can vary due to differing levels of moisture content in its surface, to assign a number to such variances based on the winning times of horses that have varying degrees of talent borders on insanity. For example, a $10,000 Claiming race with a purse of $24,000 on a Wednesday at Del Mar will not attract the same caliber of horses as a $10,000 Claiming race with a purse of $28,000 carded at the same track the following Saturday. Yet the results of both $10,000 Claiming races will be used to determine the alleged track variants for their respective days.