Speed Figures – Beyer Number

It really doesn’t matter what figures you use. Whether it’s the Beyer Ratings, so easy to obtain in the PP’s, numbers from Bris or any other professional service (including the either of the “sheets”) or whether you make them yourself, you need to be aware of their limitations in order to use them properly.

The worst thing you can do is take them on face value and expect horses to repeat them like the machines they are not. There is no doubt that players love to be able to quantify the abilities of contenders and proceed onward in the handicapping process. For most, a “75” is a “75” is a “75” but, for the most part, nothing could be further from the truth. The real truth lies somewhere between the two factions that believe “time is only important in jail” and those who devotedly back the best recent number(s).

Andy Beyer, still the guru in this area, even wrote an entire book premised on the fact that players SHOULD NOT bet his numbers blindly. That hasn’t stopped the majority, however, and the prevalence of numbers available to the public has not changed the percentage of winning favorites from coast-to-coast – it still annually falls in the 30-33% category across the nation. Racing writers now like to base handicapping articles on the numbers horses may have run recently and then watch in rather bewildered fashion while these fig horses don’t repeat their numbers. They like many handicappers, prefer to take the easy way out and overvalue the ‘past’ rather than trying to analyze the future. Hence, they are often wrong and are wrong at short prices.

First of all, individual ratings on horses that lose are very suspect. They may have earned an inflated/deflated rating based on how fast/slow the winner ran that day. Many thoroughbreds are ‘pack’ horses and will be sucked along in quick heats to earn numbers they won’t reproduce under different circumstances. Others get low ratings in races they weren’t suited for that mean nothing. Obviously, races on wrong surfaces or at improper distances get useless figures and outclassed horses either earn numbers that are way too low or, perhaps, too high based on the “suck along” theory. Since most speed figures are based primarily on final time, phony pace situations (whether they be fast or slow) often result in races that earn suspect figures and create individual marks that are out-of-touch with reality.

Second, virtually all horses are in the midst of changing form cycles while improving/regressing and it’s the rare horse that pounds out the same-type rating right along. This is especially true in this era of year-round racing with many tracks featuring cheap stock in order to fill cards day after day. The successful players are the ones who properly project what a horse may do today.

Third, most number systems are not very good at making figures that are truly interchangeable between the different racing circuits. Too many cooks spoil the brother and all that. For this reason, many big-priced shippers with credentials to win are overlooked when changing tracks, especially when going to a “better” oval. Considering the subtleties involved when making numbers, they only way they can be kept on an even keel overall is for the same person to be making them. That’s impossible for a system as far-flung as the Beyer Ratings which produce ratings for all over the country. It’s the old apples and oranges when comparing a horse that ran at Boise with ones that have been running at Bay Meadows.

Fourth, and most important, is the lack of “value” available on apparent figure standouts. Probably the worst long-term bet you can make is on the horse with the highest last Beyer Rating. If they have the two highest recent figs, so much the worse. You can get run over by the chalk seekers as they rush to the window to back these even-money (or worse) propositions.

This is not to say that ratings are useless and should be ignored. It simply means that basing your entire approach to the handicapping puzzle on these figures is a false one.  Players determined to use Beyer Ratings as their primary weapon need to become experts in determining form cycle movements and they need to be able to analyze a horse’s record and determine which of these figs mean something and which mean nothing. If they judge a horse to be ready for his best based on its current cycle, it’s perfectly OK to credit that horse with the best rating that shows in the PPs (as long as it was run under today’s conditions). If that number is better than the rest in that field, the play may be a good one as well as one that offers betting value. The further you need to go back to find this rating, the better. If it has two or more such figs buried in its record, the stronger the play. In other words, you have to be willing to dig under the surface to find these wagers.

Personally, I rarely use individual speed figures any more, even the ones I make for this publication. What I do use is the overall rating of the race in order to identify potentially productive “key” events. The ones that produce winners, even among the also-rans that may not have scored well on their individual figs. This is particularly true in Maiden races where the top-rated horses may already have run it’s best while the lightly-raced also-rans may improve sharply due to class drops, equipment/medication changes and experience.
Basically, however, the truth behind winning with speed figures is the fact that significant ratings are the ones that lie below the surface. For the players who understand overall handicapping better than their wagering rivals, the ratings are valuable tools. Those who go deeper than the last race or two will continue to create the overlay situations that make profitable opportunities.