Intuitively this doesn't make sense, but if we think about it a little more deeply, it does.
Like humans, a horses final time is a representation of their internal fractions, where even ones are relaxed and comfortable, stops and starts, fast and slow, are uncomfortable. Physics taught us that in high school. In general, in route races, the larger the variance between internal quarters, the less efficient the energy use. Horses - no matter what fractions the leader puts up - who "run their race" will have a better final time.
People have talked about it in idiomatic terms for a hundred years: "It's not how fast they run, it's how they run fast".
If we look at the Breeders Cup in 2010, Blame exemplifies this well. Not only did he get a clean inside trip, he ran his fractions with not very much variance at all (average fractions for a 2:02.3 race would be about 24.4). It was a fairly even effort, which should result in him running exactly to his ability, or arguably a decent figure:
- Blame 24.6 24.5 23.7 24.6 24.9
Zenyatta ran these numbers:
- Zenyatta 26.3 23.7 23.7 24.5 24.1
But here is where the simple concept of even fractions muddies a pace puzzle.
Blame's fractions fit his running style perfectly, and were pretty ideal. Zenyatta's probably fit her pretty well too. She was a deep closer, and racing her as Mike Smith did (although he took tons of criticism for the loss) arguably allowed her to fire her gun.
At Santa Anita in the 2009 Breeders Cup (on a faster surface) she ran these fractions:
- SA BCC 26.9 23.3 23.3 23.9 23.2
So, not only do we have to look at pace and internal fractions when assessing a horse's final time, we have to look at running style, too.
When interviewed by Horseplayer Magazine, Mike Maloney said "I think evaluating pace is still an area where there’s still some opportunity if a person takes the time to do it."
I think there's no doubt he's right. If you want to open a can of worms, open one that contains the concept of pace. You can spend a lot of time trying to figure it out, but it's a fascinating mental exercise.