Imagine if you will, juvenile champion Shanghai Bobby stalking the early lead, pouncing to the front on the far turn, and rolling home to a multiple length score in the 138th running of the Preakness Stakes. Jubilant rider, Rosie Napravnik, blows kisses to an adoring crowd as the pair gets draped in daisies painted to look like black-eyed susans. Nothing but rainbows and crab cakes, right?
Churchill Downs Incorporated should hope so. Their creation of the Kentucky Derby points system is a new improved way to identify the 20 horses best equipped to win America’s most famous race. Or is it? I wonder what Dr. Ian Malcolm, of Jurassic Park fame, would say about all this.
Dr. Malcolm’s Chaos Theory has two basic premises. First, that complex systems like weather have an underlying order. For example, pool balls. You hit a pool ball, and it starts to carom off the sides of the table. In theory, that's a fairly simple system, almost a Newtonian system. Since you can know the force imparted to the ball, and the mass of the ball, and you can calculate the angles at which it will strike the walls, you could predict the behavior of the ball far into the future, as it keeps bouncing from side to side. You could predict where it will end up three hours from now, in theory. What does all this have to do with Shanghai Bobby and the Kentucky Derby? With this first half of Malcolm’s Chaos Theory in mind, the carefully planned spreadsheet of point values, that CDI has created to determine the best 20 horses, works perfectly. In the above scenario of Shanghai Bobby proving to be a heroic winner of the Triple Crown’s Middle Jewel at Pimlico, we can assume that he either had also won the Kentucky Derby, or at the very least, had a good run at it under the famed twin spires of Churchill Downs. The crowd in Baltimore, race fans everywhere, and CDI could not be happier to see Rosie grinning ear-to-ear in the Preakness winner’s circle, because in large part, he was given his chance two weeks earlier in Louisville. And of course, he was afforded that chance after qualifying for the run for the roses by gaining the points necessary to do so.
But wait a minute, there is a second main premise to that Chaos Theory of Malcolm. The fictional chaotician also realized that the reverse of the first premise is an earthly reality. In other words, that simple systems can produce complex behavior. Back to that pool ball example, it turns out you can't predict more than a few seconds into the future. This is true because almost immediately very small effects - imperfections in the surface of the ball, tiny indentations in the wood of the table - start to make a difference. And it doesn't take long before they overpower your careful calculations. So it turns out that this simple system of a pool ball on a table has unpredictable behavior.
Can you imagine this second half of the Chaos Theory applied to the uncertainty and fragile nature of the best laid plans for getting a thoroughbred racehorse not only to the big race feeling good, but having qualified under the new points system? The possibilities have chaos theorists everywhere licking their chops as they observe the prep schedule to the 2013 Kentucky Derby.
Consider if you will, that original scenario of Shanghai Bobby winning the Preakness in breathtaking fashion, but this time, with just a smidge of Chaos Theory thrown in, taking place after the champion had been denied entry into the Kentucky Derby because he did not have enough points to qualify under the new system.
CDI would now be known as Chaos Downs Incorporated.
And before you send the guys in the white coats after me and good old Dr. Malcolm with butterfly nets, consider that Chaos is already in motion. Shanghai Bobby, the undefeated two-year-old champion, likely does not have enough points currently to make the cut. And with only one more race planned for him before the Derby, his connections know that the result of the Florida Derby becomes vitally important. What if there is a bad break, or a traffic problem, or what if he finishes fourth, beaten only a half-length? Also, not lost on the Kentucky Derby chaos theorists is Itsmyluckyday. The best sophomore in the nation so far in 2013, is in much the same boat as Shanghai Bobby, and even more so. With the point system so slanted towards the final series of races, his impressive wins in the Gulfstream Park Derby and Holy Bull mean next to nothing as far as Kentucky Derby qualification. The fact that these two will face off in the Florida Derby, both, dare I say, desperate for qualifying points, makes that race either very interesting, or pure chaos bait.
A Preakness winning, juvenile champion not having qualified for the Kentucky Derby? Now that would be chaos!
***A special thanks to author, Michael Crichton and Dr. Ian Malcolm for their assistance in the construction of today's blog***