Derby, Arc, King George Stat Attack…

A bit of a maths lesson (of sorts) today, dear reader, as we look at the times for three of Europe’s premier middle distance contests. My good racing buddy, Rob Pacitto, who has stirred debate on these pages previously with his calls for an end to the weight for age allowance scale. And he’s up to his old tricks again, this time considering race times…

Rob is a bit of a statto, which is one of the main reasons I enjoy his company so much! In a few idle moments (!), he decided to chart the respective winning times for the Derby, King George and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe since 1951.

His findings are as interesting as they are inconclusive, but I felt they might at least stimulate some debate… So without further ado, I’ll hand over to Rob:


I just compiled the attached chart showing the winning times of the Derby, King George and Arc during the last 59 years, that is since the most recently established race, the King George, was first run in 1951. The vertical axis shows time in seconds.

As you will see the trend is downward in all three, which is as you would expect, i.e. horses are getting faster. However, it is interesting how the downward trend for the Derby is so gentle compared to the all aged contests, where the trends are near-identical and much more significant. The reason for this difference is not immediately obvious to me...I don't know if you have a view...

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Now off to do something useful with my life!!



My reply was as follows:

That’s very interesting Rob, and I’d like to offer a couple of suggestions, none of which are based on science… 😉

  1. The Derby may have seen the smallest deviation, due to the obvious improvement in speed of horses over time (training methods, nutrition, veterinary care, etc. improving) being counterbalanced by a trend in Britain to breed horses for speed over stamina.
  1. Copare that with the increasingly cosmopolitan Arc, where horses bred more stoutly (especially from Italy and Germany, as well as formerly from Ireland) have also benefited from the improvements mentioned in point 1. These two elements in combination may have conspired to reduce times over the period in question.
  1. The competitiveness of the latter two races (King George is 3yo’s versus older horses meaning competition should be stronger; Arc is THE championship event, and therefore the most competitive) has led to times getting quicker. It may be possible to measure this by aggregating winning distances and calculating an average (the smaller the winning distance, the more competitive the race – in theory at least)
  1. The state of the ground and track management generally. I can imagine that Longchamp may have been a good bit boggier come October in the 50’s than it’s well drained, well groomed 2009 incarnation, meaning that the times would improve commensurately.

Like I say, they’re only theories and there’s no science behind them, but hey… makes for interesting enough conjecture…!


So that's as far as we got (not very!), and maybe you have a view on this interesting (if ultimately somewhat pointless!) academic debate...

What are your thoughts? Leave a comment, and let us all know...


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6 replies
  1. David Green says:

    Simples !!


    It gets blamed for everything else so why not the going at racecourses ?

    Racing used to be abandoned for weeks at a time ( in winter ! ) due to snow and/or frost. We still get occasional abandonments due to frost but over the last 10 years how many meetings have been abandoned DUE TO SNOW ALONE. Would there be an equivalent figure available for 40 -50 years ago ?

    Going described as hard during the flat race season is now conspicuous by its absence.

    Our early Summers seem to be wetter than in bygone years to a greater degree than the Autumns. The ground can take rain better in summer so it does not lead to the abandonments that such rainfall would cause later in the season.

    The extra rain , coupled with better watering facilities may have made the ground more consistent in mid summer , leading to more consistent times. Improved drainage would only make the ground better in general later in the season with correspondingly better times.

    Now the weight for age scale shows………………………………:o)

  2. Jim says:

    Straight off the top of my head – the Derby is the earliest of the three races in the year for 3 year olds who will be more mature after a further few months. In other words the time it takes horses to mature (and 3yr olds are still relatively immature) means they will be stronger as time goes by. It would be interesting to see similar figures for the Guineas and Leger.

    Does this make sense????

    • Matt Bisogno says:

      Interesting comments, chaps. Thank you.

      Regarding the Guineas and St Leger, my – again, totally unscientific – initial thought would be that the fashion for breeding speed over stamina would likely lend itself to quicker horses in the earlier Classic and the same flattish line in the Leger as we saw in the Derby. I think the Oaks might also be interested – to see if the Derby trends replicated itself there…

      I also think there’s probably something in the going. I reckon soft ground in the 50’s would have been quicksand like conditions. Retaining my consistency in this piece, I have nothing whatsoever to support that notion…!


  3. kojak says:

    I think you guys should go to the pub and have a pint on Friday afternoon and chat about women not 4 legged thourougbreds

    • Matt Bisogno says:

      I’m with you, Kojak… here’s looking at you, kid! (was that Kojak?!)


  4. kojak says:

    Old school nickname just same time as tell salvallas appeared
    on our screens I decided to shave my head and the rest is history

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