Oppenheim: Who’s the Greatest?



In the wake of Arrogate’s terrific run in the Mar. 25 G1 Dubai World Cup there was a good deal of chat in the press and on social media to the effect “who’s the greatest? Arrogate or Frankel–or other?” While Arrogate is a superstar, there is always an inclination to get carried away with the most recent great performance, which we naturally remember most vividly.

Nonetheless, (usually) the clock don’t lie. It’s always important to distinguish between the use of speed figures and speed ratings (enhanced versions of ‘time’) for which the purpose is to predict the winner of a particular race, or for their use in an historical context. It’s easy to confuse the two, which is one reason why gamblers often have a different definition, or certainly, application of speed figures than do analysts like ourselves, for whom their principal application is historical.

We’ve looked at three speed figure ratings here: the ‘Official Rating’ (OR), which is what the racing authorities use; Racing Post Ratings (RPR); and Timeform ratings. They all tell the same story: Frankel was the greatest, and it’s about a three-way dead-heat for second. Using Official Ratings, Frankel was assigned 140, Sea The Stars 135, and American Pharoah and Arrogate 134 each. Using RPR’s, Frankel was rated 143, with Sea The Stars and American Pharoah 138, and Arrogate 136. Using Timeform ratings, Frankel is rated the best of all time at 147; Sea The Stars (140) one of 12 other horses in 70 years rated 140+ (though Timeform did not rate US horses until the early 80’s, after Secretariat and the other two Triple Crown winners in the 1970’s, Affirmed and Seattle Slew); Arrogate is now rated 141 after Dubai; and American Pharoah 138. So, it’s unofficial: Frankel really was the greatest, but it’s not so bad to be one of the other superstars , with ratings averaging around 138.

Incidentally there are mutterings that maybe American Pharoah doesn’t deserve to be included in this group as he was ‘only’ a Triple Crown winner, which means you can possibly beat up on inferior 3-year-olds. But of course that wasn’t the whole story of American Pharoah: Baffert brought him back off his GI Travers loss and a two-month layoff to pulverize the field in the GI Breeders’ Cup Classic, including 4-year-olds Honor Code and Tonalist and fellow 3-year-old Frosted. He ran a Beyer Speed FIgure of 120 that day; Arrogate ran 122 in the Travers, 120 in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, 119 in the GI Pegasus World Cup, and 115 in the Dubai World Cup, with that big trouble line. So yes, he’s run 119+ more times than American Pharoah, but let’s make sure our memories aren’t too short: Arrogate is great, but Frankel was the greatest. California Chrome was right there in the high 130’s last year as a 5-year-old as well.


Winchell Thoroughbreds’ David Fiske tweeted even before I could that the first three in last Saturday’s GI Xpressbet Florida Derby were all from the first crops of their now second-crop sires. WinStar’s Bodemeister (Empire Maker) has been a horse a lot of people have been betting on, and now we know why: Always Dreaming scored a commanding five-length win at Gulfstream (Beyer 97), and finished the weekend as the 6-1 second favorite to McCraken (Ghostzapper) in the latest Derby Ante-Post betting. Always Dreaming’s win propelled Bodemeister to second place behind Darby Dan’s Shackleford (Forestry) on the 2017 Year-to-Date North American second-crop sire list (click here), and to third on the cumulative North American second-crop list (click here), behind Darby Dan’s other young star, Dialed In (Mineshaft) and Lane’s End’s Union Rags (Dixie Union), who of course were one-two on the 2016 Freshman Sire List. State of Honor, from the first crop by Gainesway’s To Honor And Serve (Bernardini), had previously finished third to McCraken in the GIII Sam F. Davis and second to Tapwrit (Tapit) in the GII Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby, and now he’s been second to Always Dreaming in the Florida Derby; the form book says he won’t win the GI Kentucky Derby, but he’s sure a good advertisement for the sire–he’s shirked no battles, that’s for sure. Gunnevera, Dialed In’s flagbearer who won the GII Xpressbet Fountain of Youth S., was third last Saturday to complete the 1-2-3 sweep for second-crop sires.

So this week the year-to-date North American second-crop list reads: Shackleford, Bodemeister, Dialed In, Ashford’s Stay Thirsty (Bernardini), who is the leading NA second-crop sire by 2017 winners with 21, and To Honor And Serve, who does have five Black-Type Horses this year (as now does Bodemeister), moves up to fifth (excluding Hansen, as discussed last week). Hill ‘n’ Dale’s Maclean’s Music (Distorted Humor) is in sixth. His filly Wicked Luck ran second to Farrell (Malibu Moon) in the GII Fair Grounds Oaks to become his second Graded Stakes Horse (GSH) of the year;.His first is a colt named Cloud Computing, who ran a bang-up second to J Boys Echo (Mineshaft) in the GIII Gotham S. in only his second start. Owned by Klaravich and Lawrence and trained by Chad Brown, the same connections which have GII Fountain of Youth S. second Practical Joke (Into Mischief) aiming at the GII Toyota Blue Grass S., Cloud Computing looks capable of winning this weekend’s GII Wood Memorial, which would make Maclean’s Music’s $8,500 stud fee for 2017 look dirt cheap. Union Rags moves up to seventh with two Grade II seconds: the filly Tequilita was second to Salty (Quality Road) in the GII Gulfstream Park Oaks; and Patch, jumping straight out of maiden company in just his third lifetime start, ran second to Girvin (Tale of Ekati) in the GII Louisiana Derby. The top seven (plus Hansen) now have 2017 progeny earnings of $670,000+.

As for the Derby itself, we’ll know a lot more after this weekend’s three major preps: the Blue Grass, Wood Memorial, and GI Santa Anita Derby. The Blue Grass, now run on Keeneland’s opening weekend, and of course back on dirt, looks loaded: unbeaten current Derby favorite McCraken is likely to be reopposed by Tapwrit, who was second to him in the Sam F. Davis, then came out of that to win the Tampa Bay Derby impressively (Beyer 96); the Dale Romans-trained J Boys Echo, sharp winner of the Gotham for a Beyer of 102; and the aforementioned GII Fountain of Youth second, Practical Joke. In the Wood, we’re likely to see Cloud Computing, the unexposed Pletcher-trained Battalion Runner (Unbridled’s Song), who was scratched from the Florida Derby; and two colts on recovery missions: GII Holy Bull winner but GII Fountain of Youth flop Irish War Cry (Curlin) and last year’s GII Remsen S. winner and fellow Mo Town (Uncle Mo), who fluffed his comeback run behind Girvin in the GII Risen Star at Fair Grounds. The Santa Anita Derby is likely to feature nearly a full field of pretenders hoping to become contenders, possibly headed by Iliad (Ghostzapper), second to the unbeaten but sidelined Mastery (Candy Ride) in the GII San Felipe S. One observation about the Blue Grass: McCraken doesn’t necessarily have to win it to win the Derby. Trainer Ian Wilkes’s mentor, the legendary Carl Nafzger, scored his second Derby win with Street Sense in 2007 after he was beaten in the Blue Grass–although it was run on the synthetic that year.

The following weekend sees the final major Derby prep, the GI Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park. Last year’s juvenile champion Classic Empire (Pioneerof The Nile) will be on a recovery mission there, having run a tepid third in the Holy Bull in his only start of the year, and he’ll likely have opposition therein the form of two Pletcher trainees who have won the two Oaklawn preps: undefeated One Liner (Into Mischief), who took the GIII Southwest S. (Beyer 102), and Malagacy (Shackleford), also three-for-three after winning the GII Rebel S. (Beyer 91). At last count, Pletcher has six possible contenders for the Derby: Florida Derby winner Always Dreaming; Tampa Bay Derby winner Tapwrit; the two unbeaten colts in Arkansas, Malagacy and One Liner; Louisiana Derby second Patch; and Battalion Runner, who goes for the Wood. That’s at last count. One thing is certain: the picture will look different this time next week. Contact Bill Oppenheim at [email protected] (cc [email protected]).

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