Much stimulating discussion ensued after Saturday’s post about why Kentucky Derby winners aren’t getting much faster.
Reader Avin D. sends us this 2014 Deadspin piece by Roger Pielke Jr. which has much better stats and looks at whether we’ve neared peak speeds in animal races:
One possibility, advanced by Denny and others, is that thoroughbred race times may have leveled off because the narrow genetic diversity of racehorses limits the genetic diversity in the pool of potential thoroughbred champions. Modern thoroughbreds are descendants of a small number of horses (less than 30 in the 18th century), and 95 percent are thought to trace their ancestry to a single horse, The Darley Arabian. Today, there are fewer than 25,000 thoroughbreds born each year in the United States. Compare that with the more than 7 billion people worldwide.3 The size of the human population may simply lead to a greater number of potential athletes with extreme speed.
Very cool. Imagine if every current human runner was descended from, like, Guto Nyth Bran.
The Darley Arabian sired Flying Childers:
It is said he completed this race, over the Round Course at Newmarket, in 6 minutes, 40 seconds and that he reached a speed of 82 1/2 feet per second or 1 mile per minute. This was claimed to make Flying Childers the only horse on record as having matched the top speed of the unbeaten Eclipse. By way of comparison, this would be nearly 40 seconds faster than the unbeaten Frankel ran the Newmarket Rowley Mile in his famous 2,000 Guineas victory of 2011, over 30 seconds faster than the current mile track record and very close to the five furlong track record set by Lochsong in 1994.
As for Eclipse:
Eclipse is still remembered in the phrase “Eclipse first and the rest nowhere”, snowcloned as “[name of competitor] first and the rest nowhere,” referring to any dominating victory. This phrase is occasionally seen in American print media (most often in newspaper sport sections) but is more common in Britain.
A new one to me. If Flying Childers could keep his alleged top speed of 82.5 feet per second he’d finish the Kentucky Derby in a minute twenty.
Why aren’t horse races longer anymore, the way they were in the Stewball era?
Anyway, congrats to Justify:
is it interesting that the winner’s time on average hasn’t improved that much over 121 runnings at the current length?
The winner of the 1896 Kentucky Derby, the first run at the current length, was Ben Brush. He ran in 2:07.75. Only 4.16 seconds off the most recent winner, Always Dreaming.
Always Dreaming ran in 2:03.59. Crummy conditions, it’s true, but in 2015, on a nice day, American Pharaoh’s still only at 2:03.02.
Four seconds ahead of 1896. Would’ve lost to 1931’s Twenty Grand.
Twenty Grand finished in 2:01.8, which would stay the record until 1941, when Whirlaway shaved off .2, coming in at 2:01.40.
Whirlaway’s 1941 time that would’ve beaten 62 of the 76 winners since then.
Whirlaway and the great Barbaro in 2006, champions from sixty years apart, put in times less than .05 seconds off from each other.
The winning time for the Kentucky Derby has hovered around 2:02 for sixty years.
In 1973 Secretariat broke the two-minute barrier. A special horse. It’s still the record. Monarchos cracked two minutes in 2001.
In the Kentucky Derby, the top ten all time fastest finishers represent six different decades.
Compare to humans:
A world champion human mile runner from 1941 could not hang with any serious Olympic miler of the current era. Champion human mile times have improved by about thirty seconds.
Maybe that’s the wrong comparison. The Kentucky Derby is a sprint and tiny differences are significant.
OK. Say like the 100 meter dash?
Usain Bolt would beat any 100 meter dasher from the 1940s. He’s a special case, the best ever, but even the sixth place finisher at the 2016 finals would’ve been breaking the world record from ten years before. Nobody from the ’80s would’ve come close, let alone anyone from the ’40s.
The world record holder in the 100 meter dash from the 1940s wouldn’t even make the finals at the 2016 Olympics.
You have to go down into the 200s of fastest Olympic times before anyone from before 1990 shows up:
Olympic gold medal times have improved by about 10% on what they were in the early 1900s. That’s in a race that lasts around ten seconds.
The human race that timewise is the closest to the derby, around two minutes, is the 800 meter dash.
Again let’s use the Olympics. Edwin Flack of Australia won in 1896 with a time of 2:11. By the 1930s he would’ve been smoked. By then, Tommy Hampson could run 1:49.7.
By the 1980s Hampson would’ve barely made the finals. By 2016 David Rudisha of Kenya is finishing at 1:42.15, a 29 second improvement over Flack.
Rudisha is very special of course. But even Yiech Biel of the Refugee Olympic Team, last finisher in his early heat, put up a time of 1:54.67, a healthy 17 seconds ahead of Flack.
Maybe that’s the wrong comparison. The Kentucky Derby isn’t a world record, it’s a specific race under changing conditions that can be favorable or unfavorable.
Fair point but aren’t Olympic finals conditions variable?
But the Kentucky Derby’s a one-off, you only run it once (when you are three years old)
That might be interesting but also so what? Shouldn’t that mean even more variance?
More: the Derby-length (1 1/4 mile) world record run by a horse hasn’t broken 1:57. Closest was in 1980.
The world record time for a horse running this distance hasn’t improved in thirty-eight years. Meanwhile human 100 meter dash times progress pretty neatly.
So here’s my question:
Has human running improved more than horse running?
One theory: horse racing reached peak times quickly and stayed there because there’s more money in it.
Are my assumptions wrong? Very open to that, maybe average racehorse times have improved, I don’t know and I’m not sure I’m gonna bother finding out!
Please, weigh in if you have a take.
Here’s my second question:
is this interesting?
Happened to catch the end of the Daytona 500 – super dramatic! That is Austin Dillon’s dad. Dawned on me that a reason men love sports is the emotions are so intense inhibitions break down and they can express love and tenderness for each other. (War too?)
(Talking cis-straight men here, friends and fathers and sons and comrades and teammates, gay male affection a different topic)
There were no ski lifts from Schruns and no funiculars; but there were logging trails and cattle trails that led up different mountain valleys to the high mountain country. You climbed on foot carrying your skis and higher up, where the snow was too deep, you climbed on seal skins that you attached to the bottoms of the skis. At the tops of mountain valleys there were the big Alpine Club huts for summer climbers where you could sleep and leave payment for any wood you used. In some you had to pack up your own wood, or if you were going on a long tour in the high mountains and the glaciers, you hired someone to pack wood and supplies up with you, and established a base. The most famous of these high base huts were the Lindauer-Hütte, the Madlener-Hause and the Wiesbadener-Hütte.
So says Hemingway in A Moveable Feast, “Winters in Schruns”
Skiing was not the way it is now, the spiral fracture had not become common then, and no one could afford a broken leg. There were no ski patrols. Anything you ran down from, you had to climb up to first, and you could run down only as often as you could climb up. That made you have legs that were fit to run down with.
And what did you eat, Hemingway?
We were always hungry and every meal time was a great event. We drank light or dark beer and new wines and wines that were a year old sometimes. The white wines were the best. For other drinks there was wonderful kirsch made in the valley and Enzian Schnapps distilled from mountain gentian. Sometimes for dinner there would be jugged hare with a rich red wine sauce, and sometimes venison with chestnut sauce. We would drink red wine with these even though it was more expensive than white wine, and the very best cost twenty cents a liter. Ordinary red wine was much cheaper and we packed it up in kegs to the Madlener-Haus.
What was the worst thing you remember?
The worst thing I remember of that avalanche winter was one man who was dug out. He had squatted down and made a box with his arms in front of his head, as we had been taught to do, so that there would be air to breathe as the snow rose up over you. It was a huge avalanche and it took a long time to dig everyone out, and this man was the last to be found. He had not been dead long and his neck was worn through so that the tendons and the bones were visible. He had been turning his head from side to side against the pressure of the snow. In this avalanche there must have been some old, packed snow mixed in with the new light snow that had slipped. We could not decide whether he had done it on purpose or if he had been out of his head. But there was no problem because he was refused burial in consecrated ground by the local priest anyway; since there was no proof he was a Catholic.
What else do you remember?
I remember the smell of the pines and the sleeping on the mattresses of beech leaves in the woodcutters’ huts and the skiing through the forest following the tracks of hares and of foxes. In the high mountains above the tree line I remember following the track of a fox until I came in sight of him and watching him stand with his forefoot raised and then go on carefully to sop and then pounce, and the whiteness and the clutter of a ptarmigan bursting out of the snow and flying away and over the ridge.
And, did you, btw, sleep with your wife’s best friend?
The last year in the mountains new people came deep into our lives and nothing was ever the same again. The winter of the avalanches was like a happy and innocent winter in childhood compared to that winter and the murderous summer that was to follow. Hadley and I had become too confident in each other and careless in our confidence and pride. In the mechanics of how this was penetrated I have never tried to apportion the blame, except my own part, and that was clearer all my life. The bulldozing of three people’s hearts to destroy one happiness and build another and the love and the good work and all that came out of it is not part of this book. I wrote it and left it out. It is a complicated, valuable, instructive story. How it all ended, finally, has nothing to do with this either. Any blame in that was mine to take and possess and understand. The only one, Hadley, who had no possible blame, ever, came well out of it finally and married a much finer man that I ever was or could hope to be and is happy and deserves it and that was one good and lasting thing that came out of that year.
Google, show me Schruns:
Our Reader found less charm in Nick Saban’s book:
but did learn what Nick Saban eats for breakfast.
The Super Bowl matchup between Ron Rivera and Gary Kubiak proved one of the least charismatic coaching duels in memory but Our Correspondent found some points of interest in Rivera’s Control Your APE philosophy
King of Coaches is Bill Belichick. We reviewed the best book on him back in 2015.
Last year’s Dan Quinn / Belichick matchup provided a political contrast, noted by Our Correspondent.
This year Belichick faces goofball Doug Pederson, who once had his jaw broken while playing as Brett Favre’s backup:
Pederson never started a game with the Packers and threw for only three touchdowns in his seven seasons. Two of them came against the Vikings on Oct. 5, 1998, when he replaced Favre in a blowout loss. On the second of his two touchdown passes, Pederson suffered a broken jaw thanks to a hit from corner Corey Fuller.
He would need his jaw wired shut after the game, but he still took the field for the next play because he was Longwell’s holder on extra points.
“He kind of mumbled, ‘Something’s wrong with my jaw,’ but he got the hold down, and we made the kick,” Longwell said.
so reports Rob Demovsky at ESPN.
Can’t find too much of interest in the Doug Pederson literature, but I do think it’s cool that ten years ago he was coaching high school:
The former Louisiana Monroe graduate retired in March of 2005 and accepted a job as head football coach at Calvary Baptist Academy in Shreveport, La., which has 900 students in the K-12 school.
“I thoroughly love it,” Pederson said. “I get a chance to share my faith with these guys and teach them things on and off the field.”
Good luck to both coaches!
Reporting on notable Helys. Here’s one:
That’s in the Ahmedabad Mirror.
We could use some good news. Keep going, Hely!
seen on Inside The NFL on Showtime.