Andrew Beyer has remained the most important personality in Thoroughbred handicapping for two decades. His Picking Winners, published in 1975, altered the practice of speed handicapping and the composition of speed-figure charts for all times. The numbers have evolved as staple items in Daily Racing Form's past performances as Beyer Speed Figures, thereby assuring Beyer a cultural niche in the sport's history.
Author, columnist and relentless bettor, Beyer assures anyone who asks that his enthusiasm for the great game of handicapping has never dulled. His Washington Post columns, which also appear in Daily Racing Form, not only reflect that enthusiasm, but also consistently treat the season's topics and issues with a handicapper's shine.
Beyer's routine still includes the daily cards at Gulfstream Park in Florida during winter, and other racetracks anytime from the den of his home. He lives with his wife, Susan, in Washington, D.C.
The Beyer Speed Figures are a numerical representation of a horse's performance, based on the final time and the inherent speed over the track on which the race was run. The higher the Beyer Speed Figure, the better the performance. Beyer Speed Figures are interchangeable from track to track and from distance to distance. So, a horse who is stepping up in class but has been posting recent Beyer Speed Figures in the 90's may in reality be simply faster than a horse dropping out of seemingly better races, but who has been posting Beyer Speed Figures in the 80's.
Since the inclusion of the Beyer Speed Figures into Daily Racing Form in 1992, the betting public has gained easier access to these irreplaceable ratings. Therefore, from a parimutuel standpoint, it can be reasonably assumed that these figures have slowly decreased in their effectiveness and value over the past 12 years. The truth, however, is just the contrary. Beyer Speed figures are still one of the most powerful handicapping instruments available and still offer betting value when applied appropriately. Modern speed handicappers who have managed to incorporate other important handicapping variables into their handicapping routine, and have learned how to effectively interpret Beyer Speed Figures, still hold a comfortable edge over their rival bettors who are not as well versed.
Beyer Speed Figures are one of the most practical starting points for any bettor's handicapping regimen. They are the logical stepping stone before applying other handicapping concepts. A horse's most recent and next to most recent Beyer Speed Figure is a strong indication of his raw speed, and therefore the ultimate determining factor as to whether the horse is fast enough to compete with the other entrants he faces today. In most races, where horses have already had 5 or 6 races under their belt and are unlikely to undergo any further dramatic improvement, 20 to 25 percent of the field can be eliminated on Beyer Speed Figures alone. If a horse regularly earns figures in the 50's, and is meeting a handful of runners who always run in the 70s, it's safe to say he has little chance. Under most circumstances, these types of horses become automatic throw outs. They are simply too slow to compete. On the flip side of the coin, a horse that earned a poor Beyer in its last race, but has earned competitive Beyers in his other previous races, could have had a legitimate excuse for turning in such a poor effort.
This leads us to our next step, which is to determine how each horse, whether it's those that have earned more competitive numbers or those that have had disappointing efforts, achieved their figures. Were these figures earned under the same distance and track surface the horse faces today? Did a muddy or sloppy surface affect a horse's last performance? Is a horse more likely to return back to its more competitive figures on a fast track? Was the pace scenario of the last race favorable or unfavorable to a horse's running style, which may have inflated or deflated his figure? Does the horse's trainer have a positive training angle working in his favor today? Or, finally, did a horse suffer a poor performance as a result of a rough trip or unfavorable track bias? Basically, it's the handicapper's goal to decipher whether there's a good reason to ignore or accept a horse's most recent Beyer figure or figures. If a legitimate excuse could be made for a recent poor figure, and that particular horse is going off at generous odds today, there may be an optimum betting opportunity available.
Beyer Speed Figures are a valuable tool for all handicappers. Unfortunately, evaluating and applying Beyer Speed Figures are not as straightforward as the mechanics used in formulating the numbers themselves. The key to utilizing them effectively is finding circumstances where they offer the most value. In most cases, it requires that you go a lot further than looking to see which horse or horses earned the highest Beyer Figure in their last race. Their real value lies in finding a horse that has had a legitimate excuse for running an inferior figure in its last or next to last recent effort. You may find that based on some of his efforts three or four races back, that this same horse can more than compete today with a return to its best Beyer Speed Figure. - Dean Keppler
How will my horse run today?
Practical Applications of Beyer Speed Figures
If handicapping horses using Beyer Speed Figures were a perfect science, it would be relatively simple to scan the past performances and find the fastest runners in each and every race. Picking winners and cashing tickets would be as simple as finding horses that earned superior Beyer Speed Figures in their last or next to last start, and then merely dashing to the betting windows with your latest mortgage payment to reap the rewards. In this perfect world there would be 1-10 shots in every race, and the betting public would make money faster than following Martha Stewart's insider stock tips.
Unfortunately, factors such as track bias, troubled trips, trainer conditioning, post position, medication, pace of the race, trainer intent and track condition make the routine practice of betting horses with the highest Beyer Speed Figures both a risky and expensive proposition. It's true that finding horses that have earned the best Beyers in their most recent starts are an excellent starting point in uncovering quality entrants with raw speed. However, to foolishly complete your handicapping analysis using only this one angle would be a very costly mistake. It's amazing, however, how many novice bettors continue to fall into this common betting trap and continue to shred tickets.
Unquestionably, evaluating Beyer Speed Figures should be the utmost priority before starting your daily handicapping regimen. It's the only logical place to begin. Beyer Speed Figures are arguably the most powerful handicapping angle ever created. It's essential, however, that you ask yourself some critical questions before narrowing down and betting on only Beyer figure standouts. For example: Was an unusually high figure earned on the front-end on a speed-favoring surface? Did a horse earn a top figure in the mud or slop? Did he earn his figure because a trainer traditionally does exceptionally well with horses first-off-the-claim or some other favorable trainer-form angle? Did the horse earn its big speed figure because he got a perfect stalking trip behind two speedballs that ultimately ran each other into the ground? And, finally, was the speed figure earned on the turf or dirt and today's surface different than that particular race? If you can find a legitimate reason to find fault with a horse's recent top Beyer figure, you have a strong case for tossing what is likely to become a false betting favorite. In doing so this will open the door to many other logical contenders, which are inclined to be ignored by the masses and thus offer good betting value.
Reverse Beyer psychology
Creating a comprehensive list of reasons as to why a horse's last or next-to-last superior Beyer Speed Figure isn't a true indication of its actual ability is relatively simple. At the same time, however, it's much more advantageous and profitable in the long run to look for horses that earned subpar figures but may have had a legitimate excuse for doing so. These types of runners are more likely to run better today if conditions are more favorable. The betting public will commonly overlook these types of runners, and solid value will be attainable in both the win and exotic pools. The popularity of using Beyer Speed Figures have become so widespread that horses that have earned the biggest and most recent numbers are commonly overbet.
So, what's the handicapper to do? Simply look for horses with sub-par figures that may have had a legitimate excuse for running poorly. These types of horses are hidden in the past performances each and every day and offer the overlays you should be shopping for. A little detective work goes a long way in deciphering Beyer Speed Figures. Did the horse have an unusually wide trip which may have affected its final running time and position? Did he run on an off track and not take well to the muddy or sloppy surface? Was the horse compromised by an outside or inside post position? Does a trainer do poorly with layoff horses and perform much better when his stock has one or two races under their belt? These are the types of questions that you have to ask yourself before becoming hypnotized by that magical Beyer number.
For a better example, let's look at Distant Dibo, who ran recently in a $20,000 claiming event at Saratoga (click here to see past performances for Distant Dibo). He earned a dismal 39 Beyer Speed Figure (the worst of his career) over the same Saratoga surface on July 24 of this same year at the same class level. Was his performance as bad as it looks? Maybe it's not. If you look closely at this 6-furlong sprint it was contested over a muddy racetrack. It's logical to presume based on Dibo's dismal 18-length defeat that he doesn't care for a muddy surface. If today's racing surface comes up fast, this horse has every logical reason to run back to his 69 figure, which he earned in two starts prior on April 19 and July 14.
In the next example we take a glance at Blushing Judith, who was entered in a $8,000 claiming sprint at Delaware Park (click here to see past performances for Blushing Judith). At first glimpse, Judith's last two speed figures (61, 60), which were earned out of town at Penn National racecourse, look somewhat respectable when compared to the rest of the field. These two Beyer numbers are two of the highest figures ever earned by this 3-year-old colt in all of his 12 lifetime starts. A closer look, however, paints a much different picture about this colt's current main-track ability. These two figures were acquired on a firm turf course at 5 furlongs, and today's event is scheduled for the dirt. If you look back to this colt's last start (June 4) on this oval and on the main track, you can easily see that he was beaten 20 3/4 lengths at today's exact distance and class level. That's not very encouraging. He earned a pitiful 29 Beyer Speed Figure that day. In fact, all of his starts on the main track in 2003 have been awful, and he's yet to regain his sharper main-track form displayed last year in Florida. You could argue that his trainer, Harry Thompson, has a positive turf-to-dirt trainer percentage (25%), but all indications are that Blushing Judith may be better suited to the turf than dirt. He is certainly a risky proposition at low odds based on his poor Beyer Speed Figures on the main track.
Successful Beyer Speed Figure bettors are those who remain flexible when evaluating current numbers and are able to adjust to changing track conditions, trainer placement or intent, post position, workout tabs, pace and the addition of medication (Lasix). Beyer Speed Figures are a tremendous and reliable gauge of a horse's true ability. They're not, however, a neat, mechanical numerical system for pointing out magical winners, which many people interpret them to be. I don't believe such a numerical system exists. You must be aware of the many factors that contribute to a horse running differently today, and learn to capitalize on when the betting public is overlooking some of the obvious contenders. - Dean Keppler
We are often asked how horses of recent vintage compare with the stars of the past, and we wish we could offer a definitive answer. Our figures took their present form when we started compiling them for an on-line data service in 1986, but in earlier years they were still in an evolutionary phase. Our figures of today aren't exactly comparable to our numbers in the "decade of champions" -- the 1970's -- when Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Affirmed and Spectacular Bid competed. I believe these great horses regularly earned numbers that would have trounced the champions of the 1990s; when I attempt to improvise a figure for Secretariat's record-shattering victory in the Belmont, I estimated that he earned a 139 -- probably the best race ever run. - Andrew Beyer
Top Beyer Speed Figures
Since the Beyer Speed Figures were incorporated in Daily Racing Form past performances in 1992, horseplayers have had a new tool to use in their day-to-day handicapping. But the figures also offer a way to address questions that always spark lively debate among racing fans. Who are the best horses of a given year? Of a decade? Of all time?
In the period from 1992 to 1999, many fans using traditional handicapping measurements would choose Cigar as the outstanding horse; his 16-race winning streak was an extraordinary achievement. Others might cast their votes for Holy Bull or Skip Away. But from the standpoint of speed figures, the best horse was one who never won a championship and never got the acclaim he deserved: Formal Gold.
In 1997, he recorded Beyer Speed Figures of 126, 124 and 125 in consecutive races -- three of the eight highest numbers earned during the years from 1992 to 1999. (In all three of these performances he trounced Skip Away, who ran fast enough to win many Grade 1 stakes but couldn't get close to Formal Gold.) And this remarkable streak wasn't his only distinction; Formal Gold had won his career debut with a figure of 112 -- the best Beyer Speed Figure ever earned by a first-time starter.
Cigar, by contrast, never recorded a figure higher than 121, and usually ran in the vicinity of 117. Although he was an exceptional competitor with many virtues, he managed to go through his record winning streak without encountering a rival who stepped up and ran a blockbuster number. The fastest sprinter in the period from 1992-1999 was Artax. Although he was an in-and-outer for much of his career, he recorded figures of 124, 123 and 123 in his championship season of 1999 -- three of the six best sprint numbers during the eight-year span.
The most extraordinary speed-figure achievement since we started publishing our numbers in 1986 belonged to the sprinter Groovy. He started his 1987 campaign with back-to-back victories in six-furlong stakes, in which he earned figures of 133 and 132. No horse since then has broken the 130 mark. - Andrew Beyer