An Intro to Horse Evaluation: Part 1

By Ryan Trost

Since the reopening of breeding as well as the Million Dollar Drop, we have seen an incredible influx in both new talent hitting the field, as well as a surplus of demand for racing pushing queue times to an incredible 8+ hours. Coupled with this ecosystem shift, we have seen an increasing desire for accurate rankings. This desire stems from stable owners searching for validation that the asset they've acquired is as good as they think it is, or as good as its stats show! Seasoned veterans and newcomers alike will benefit from an in-depth look at the stepwise fashion necessary for evaluating any given horse in terms of its own ability, its ability in relation to any given 12 horse field, and to the overall population at large. For your review, I will go over the qualitative method I use to attempt to organize a racer into the hierarchy. It is my opinion that this analysis should serve as the benchmark for developing quantitative models to rank the entire population!

In order to fully understand the value of a horse in terms of racing ability, it’s important to segment into two separate attributes. The first of which I’ll coin as maximum ability. This is defined as the upper threshold of ability seen in the individual. In other words, the horse's potential to win any given race against any given field of 11 other horses. Currently, the easiest and most well accepted method for gauging this top end ability is odds. Odds, we’ve been told, are a reflection of the number of races your horse wins if that 12 horse field was simulated 1000 times. On a much larger scale, it can be reflected as the horses Win Rate. Further, we are doing work here at KYH to analyze the significance of race time data. A horse’s maximum ability can be seen in this way by their top speed, or fastest time in any given distance. 

Here are two examples of maximum ability on display using a well known low class killer: Purse Collector 

Pulling sub 10 odds consistently equates to having on average more than a 10% chance of winning any given race. This is a commonly used benchmark number to gauge whether or not a horse has real winning potential. On top of stellar average odds, Purse Collector also maintains the fastest time ever run in a 1400m race.

Winning this race by a margin of 6.647 seconds is ridiculous, and instantly highlights a huge maximum ability. For reference this is almost 10 seconds faster than the average 1400m time of 83.542041 seconds. Soon we will provide fastest, slowest and average times for each horse and how they compare to the overall population. Our hope is that this provides even more edge in identifying the maximum ability of your asset in combination with odds!

The second, and arguably the most pervasive and misunderstood attribute is Ability Deviation. This is defined as the range of performance in any given race. That is, where along the spectrum from fastest possible time to slowest possible time for that horse does the majority of that individual’s races land. This concept is fractal, meaning it applies to any one race as well as every race that horse has even run. The U-shaped horse phenomenon that has taken both the game and its class system by storm is where we see this attribute in the spotlight. Ability deviation is seen popularly through the placements chart. Horses with the highest deviation create a U-shaped placements chart, with their most placed positions being 1st and 12th. A-shaped horses, on the other hand, have the lowest amount of ability deviation and have a concentrated peak in their placement chart, hence the name. While we’ve all popularly frowned upon A-shaped horses due to their inability to rise through the class system and profit overall, the reality is that the individuals themselves simply have extremely low ability deviation while also having low maximum ability for their class.

Here are several examples, including one U-shaped, one A-shaped, one “descending” shaped and one “ascending” shape. While it is important to note that there are individuals who exist that have nearly identical placements from 1-12th, barely any work has been done studying these rare individuals. 

U-shaped: Purse Collector 
We see a dramatic drop off of distributions as we move towards middle-of-the-pack finishes, culminating in a rise back into peaking at 12th place. Hence the term: U-shaped. Again, this is a result of incredibly high ability deviation.
A-Shaped: PS: I Don't Love You 

Almost exactly contrarian to the U-shaped placement distribution, an A-shaped horse consistently bundles together its finishes between 5th-8th place. This is a consequence of minimal ability deviation

Descending: Star Strider 
A descending placement distribution is extremely favorable, as by definition the horse should farm class points and consistently rise through the class system, deep into class I. This is mostly seen in the Nakamoto line, and is defined by high maximum ability and low ability deviation.

Ascending: Girl Hay 

An ascending placement chart is absolutely the worst possible situation. These horses are completely unable to win as well as rise up through the ranks. Avoid at all costs and if you breed one, I am sorry. This is characterized by minimal ability deviation and minimal maximum ability

As I mentioned, there are other placement distributions possible, but these are some common profiles that perfectly explain the two concepts we are focusing on here. Developing a baseline understanding of how ability works serves as a benchmark to comparing horse to horse, identifying your horse's capabilities as early as possible, and being successful out on the tracks. In the next article of the series, we will dive into horse-horse comparisons, how odds and race times can differ and vary, and move closer to ironing out exactly how to develop your strategy based on data and sound management principles.