Belmont Stakes 2013: The New Normal

With the final time of the 2013 Belmont clocking in at 2:30.70, this marks the fourth Belmont in a row with a final time exceeding 2:30. This four race stretch of 2:30+ is second only to the period of 1926-1930*, where the final times of five races in a row exceeded 2:30.

*The Belmont was first held at 12f beginning in 1926.

Just four years in, the decade of 2010-2019 has logged the most 2:30+ winning times since the period of 1940-1949, when five races were clocked in 2:30+. With an average time of 2:30.89, it is the slowest start to a decade since 1930-1933, when the average time was 2:31.60.

There was a paper published several years ago entitled “Athlete Atypicity on the Edge of Human Achievement: Performances Stagnate after the Last Peak, in 1988,” which modeled the peaks, regression, and eventual stagnation of athletic achievements in the sports of track and field and swimming over the modern Olympic era. The paper states that overall (allowing for extraordinary achievements here and there), the pinnacle of atypical track and field performances peaked in 1988, achievements have become stagnant in the years since, and that “this present halt of performances and the previously demonstrated stagnation of WR emphasize that our physiological evolution will remain limited in a majority of Olympic events. Present performances may now be enhanced through exceptional individuals at the frontier of our genomic condition or with the artificial help of technology.”

Strangely enough, if you look at the overall raw winning times for the Belmont, you could also say that TB performance also peaked around this time as well (sometime between 1980-1994). The period of 1980-1989 is the only decade where all winning Belmont times were under 2:30. It is also the decade with the most winners (5) who finished in times under 2:28, and the decade with the lowest average time (2:27.94).

What is remarkable is that during the period from 1972-1994, all winning horses had a final time under 2:30. From 1988-1994, four horses had winning times in the 2:26s, with Easy Goer and A.P. Indy almost breaking the 2:25 barrier (clocking in at 2:26 flat and 2:26.13 respectively). Since then, the times (with slight variation) have been bouncing around the 2:27s/2:28s and then rocketing up to the 2:30s. It is still way too early to write off this decade, but the average time of the 2010s is currently running around two seconds slower than the 2000s.

Years Final time <2:28 Final time <2:30 Final time >2:30 Average time Average time – first 4 years of decade
1926-1930 0 0 4 2:32.65
1930-1939 0 5 5 2:30.68 2:31.60
1940-1949 0 5 5 2:29.90 2:29.50
1950-1959 1 7 3 2:29.14 2:29.10
1960-1969 0 9 1 2:28.86 2:29.35
1970-1979 2 8 2 2:28.78 2:29.10
1980-1989 5 10 0 2:27.94 2:28.70
1990-1999 4 9 1 2:28.43 2:27.78
2000-2009 3 9 1 2:28.59 2:28.98
2010-2013 0 0 4 2:30.89 2:30.89

Is this perceived lack of stamina in the breed actually due to pedigree, training methods, or medications, or is the whole thing cyclical regardless of any kind of interventions? Have the horses in this country simply hit their peak of what is consistently possible and are now somehow regressing, only to cycle back up again to the previously attained levels at some undetermined point in the future?

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