American Pharoah: Odds-on favorite, but scientific long-shot …

In prior posts we reported how history is against American Pharoah  — How often do Derby & Preakness winners nail the Triple Crown? — and how bettors like long-shots — Biases: The favorite-long shot bias … ».

Today we’ll wrap up Triple Crown Week, excerpting an interesting piece in Wired titled “Science says that American Pharoah won’t win the triple crown”



Here’s the essence of the scientific argument …


According to the Wired recap of scientific studies:

During high-intensity exercise, humans and other animals need a lot of energy.

The energy fuel is stored it in the muscles and liver as glycogen, a type of sugar that the body can easily burn for energy.

A body “hits the wall” when it runs out of glycogen and switches to burning fat … a less easily metabolized energy source.

Distance runners, cyclists, and other human athletes can refuel during long bouts of exercise with sports drinks and energy gels.

Racehorses can’t be re-fueled mid-race like cyclists.

And, healthy horses naturally start races with a full tank, so they can’t be overloaded with extra glycogen.

Horses (and humans) produce lactic acid to metabolize the stored glycogen.

Too much lactic acid clogs the metabolic process, making it harder a horse to burn its diminishing store of glycogen. Hence, the wall.

In some cases, the lactic overload could cause internal bleeding .

Starting in the 1970s, many trainers started giving their horses a drug called Lasix, a diuretic that lowered overall fluid volume and reduced the risks of lactic overload.

Some experts say it’s no coincidence that the Triple Crown drought started around the same time Lasix became a standard in the racing world.

A side-effect of the Lasix process is a coincidental reduction in calcium levels … that increases muscular fatigue and makes horses susceptible to bone damage – both catastrophic and “micro-damage”.

Given enough time between races, healthy horses can rebalance their systems and rebuild their muscles and bones.

But, some experts argue that the 2 weeks between the Derby and the Preakness – and the 3 weeks between the Preakness and the Belmont – just isn’t enough recovery time for a horse that’s being pushed to its absolute limits.

And, when do the chickens come home to roost?

You guessed it: in the final (and longest) of the races – the Belmont.

So, science says that the really smart money would bet on the best horse that skipped the Derby or the Preakness or both.

But, most money will probably flow to American Pharoah … he’ll be a historical and scientific long-shot … but we like long-shots.


See the full Wired  article for more scientific detail



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