Analysis: Did War of Will ride rail bias to Preakness Stakes win?

May 21, 2019 02:27pm
Analysis: Did War of Will ride rail bias to Preakness Stakes win?
Photo: Maryland Jockey Club
After War of Will won Saturday's Preakness Stakes, two criticisms came to the front.

1. Some handicappers downplayed the win while arguing the War Front colt rode the rail bias. But War of Will looked like a logical contender, as did other dirt winners who were supposedly aided by inside trips.

2. War of Will earned a relatively low Beyer Speed Figure (99) and Brisnet Speed Rating (95). On TimeformUS, he looked better by a few points with a 122.

To counter the first assumption, it helps to go through the Preakness card and cross-examine other dirt winners.

In the Sir Barton Stakes, King for a Day tracked the surprise pacesetter Trifor Gold, took over in the stretch and slowly pulled clear with Tone Broke chasing. Considering King for a Day went off at 2-5, he does not provide any bias evidence. If there was a bias, it failed to help Trifor Gold.

Three races later in the Maryland Sprint (G3), New York Central used the rail to win. But on closer inspection, the result did not seem so out of place.

Bettors pounded this colt to 2-1 off his 6-1 morning line. Even though New York Central drew the rail, as the second dirt race on the card there was no way to know if a bias existed.

Trainer Steve Asmussen did talk this one up earlier in the week. Plus, his progression on TimeformUS appears logical after the race, as he went from 113 to 115 to 118 last Saturday.

Two races later in Race 8, the 4-5 Articulator won gate to wire for trainer Jorge Navarro. It is not uncommon to see Navarro horses win in that fashion.

A few races later in the Chick Lang Stakes (G3), Lexitonian upset the field at 17-1. But notice he tipped out in the stretch run to tackle Gladiator King. 
Also notice the rail horse Malpais, had no answer for Gladiator King or Lexitonian and faded. 

The public underestimated Lexitonian, as he came into the field with a 110 TimeformUS Speed Figure, the same as Gladiator King’s last race.

Then came the Preakness. War of Will went into this race with multiple graded stakes wins at Fair Grounds, one bad prep race with an excuse and a Kentucky Derby effort in which he was impeded.

Maximum Security ended up skipping the Preakness, as did Country House, Code of Honor and Tacitus, making the race easier on paper than the Kentucky Derby. War of Will went into the Preakness as a horse to fear given he lost an unknown number of lengths when interfered with through the far turn, while Improbable had a good trip and could be disregarded.

With those points in mind, War of Will was a logical Preakness winner.

Everfast came through the inside to pick up second at 29-1. While I discounted him, sometimes big longshots with a closing style only need to pick off tired horses for a high placing in a Triple Crown race. Remember when Tale of Verve finished second to American Pharoah in 2015?

Because Warrior’s Charge went as fast as he did in the early stages, it cooked most of the frontrunners and left the race open to longshot closers to give their best runs. It is only a credit to War of Will that he continued on.

In Race 14, Firecrow won gate to wire while racing wide from Post 8 and then wide again in the stretch. Gnarly Mo closed from outside for second.

As for War of Will's 99 Beyer Speed Figure and 95 Brisnet Speed Rating for winning the Preakness,
this colt has looked below average on numbers for some reason. He has been arguably short-changed before.

Back when he won the Risen Star Stakes (G2) in February, War of Will ran a faster time on the same card than Silver Dust in the Mineshaft Handicap (G3) for the same distance and yet only earned a 92 Beyer Figure, five points lower Silver Dust’s 97. On TimeformUS, War of Will ran a 110, while Silver Dust earned a 115.

With that said, it is completely understood that Silver Dust’s Mineshaft win featured a slow pace and figure makers decided to break out the race.

The point is that speed figures are not an exact science. When they say figures are part “art” as has been explained many times, they mean it is part opinion. To use the word "opinion," of course, would imply it is less a of a formula the betting public can trust.

Handicappers need to think for themselves while using speed figures as a tool to work with rather than as the final answer. Was War of Will's Preakness speed figure too high or low? Given his solid past resume minus the Louisiana Derby (G2), does it really matter? He is obviously talented.

As an added note, for Belmont Stakes purposes, speed figures are mostly useless anyway because of the longer distance. In the end, a horse who can settle into a smooth rhythm and last the 12 furlongs will win. Final speed figures cannot measure who will relax in a marathon. 

War of Will heads into the Belmont in three weeks with skeptics, but he is a deserved top choice off his Preakness run. As explained above, the rail bias is questionable and speed figures are not always exact. War of Will is a top colt in this division, and defeating him will not prove easy in the final leg.


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Meet Reinier Macatangay

My first time at the racetrack came as a 5-year-old kid at Santa Anita Park. For most of my younger life, that was the only track I attended other the occasional visit to Hollywood Park. 

Years later, after graduating California State University, Stanislaus with an English MA, I began writing for Lady and the Track. From late 2014-2016, my articles were seen on a weekly basis and covered handicapping, interviews with well-known racing personalities, fashion and more. 

The handicapping style I use concentrates on pace analysis. Some horses are compromised by the pace. Others are helped. Handicappers just starting out cannot easily see how pace affects the finish, so with this blog, I hope to help those unsure of how to apply pace into their handicapping and post-race analysis. 

On an unrelated note, I enjoy video games and attending anime or comic-book conventions. I am currently based in Kentucky, but spend a lot of time traveling between there and California.

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