(Note: Daily Racing Form was informed by NYRA on Thursday, May 13, that the official running times for the Withers Stakes have been changed to :23.42, :45.64, 1:09.27 and a final time of 1:35.87.)
When a race runs decidedly faster or slower than anticipated, it can be tempting for figmakers to adjust their numbers up or down to reflect par times or figure projections. But experienced figmakers have learned that in the absence of any tangible explanation - such as a sudden rainstorm - it is usually best to trust the clock and avoid "playing God" with the figures.
Sometimes, though, the final time of a race makes so little sense that something must be amiss. And that was the case in the April 24 Withers Stakes at Aqueduct.
Almost as soon as 24-1 longshot Afleet Again crossed the finish in front, eyebrows were being raised at the clockings posted on the board: 21.60, 43.82, 1:07.45 and a final time of 1:34.05. If, say, D'Funnybone had sprinted away from the field to an eight-length lead down the backstretch, those fractional times might have been believable, but only three lengths separated the five-horse field after a quarter-mile. And alarm sirens began to wail more loudly when Mark Hopkins calculated the Beyer Speed Figures for the race based on the official time: Afleet Again 116, runnerup Ibboyee 113, and third-place Spangled Star 105.
Hopkins and Andy Beyer immediately suspected a timer malfunction of some kind, and digital timing software proved their suspicions correct. Afleet Again actually ran the mile in about 1:35.80, and the race fractions were much slower as well: in the close neighborhood of 23.35, 45.57 and 1:09.20 (There is a slight margin of error, but the timing software can usually get within .05 seconds of the actual time).
NYRA apparently is sticking with the original clocking, so the times above are not official. But the Beyer Speed Figure for Afleet Again was adjusted downward to a 98, and the Moss Pace Figures for the race (82-90-93-92) also reflect the revised clocking.
Last summer, Quality Road's 1:13.74 in the Amsterdam Stakes - with internal fractions of 22.45, 44.55 and 1:07.22 - caused similar consternation, especially since Quality Road picked up 2 1/2 lengths on the leader during the second quarter. In that case, timing software verified the Saratoga teletimer. The Withers time, on the other hand, doesn't hold up to scrutiny.