In the course of the last 45 years, the biggest advancement in handicapping has probably been the emergence of speed figures.
What is commonplace now was in its infancy back then when speed variants ruled the land.
The variants were simplistic. They were averages based on how many lengths above or below the track record the races on that day were.
Speed figures took that process to a new and infinitely more helpful level.
Though he was not the founding father of speed figures, Washington Post turf writer and handicapper Andrew Beyer made them popular through his 1975 book Picking Winners. In it, Beyer explained his take on speed figures and how he developed numbers that could reflect horses’ performances at different distances.
For example, times of 1:12 at six furlongs, 1:25 at seven furlongs and 1:38 at a mile all equaled a 94 to Beyer, who used a numeric system in which the higher the speed figure, the better the performance.
Beyond that, a horse with a Beyer Speed Figure of 104 ran faster than a horse with a 94, even if those figures were earned at different distances.
Then Beyer established a table of pars, which was the expected speed figure for a Winner at each level in the condition book. Let’s say the par for a Maiden Special Weight sprint was an 84 and the winner ran an 86, that would mean the track was fast by two points.
Beyer applied that process to all of a card’s dirt races and turf races (keeping the dirt and turf races separate) and then he would average the pluses and minuses to determine whether the track was slow or fast. That means if the average for the day was minus-2 then the aforementioned MSW Winner who ran an 86 would get credit for an 88 Beyer Speed Figure.
Horses who finished behind the Winner had their figures calculated by how many lengths behind they finished, taking two points off for each length behind in a route race and three points per length in a sprint.
It takes time, but handicappers can craft their own speed figures.
They can also save time by purchasing speed figures from a variety of outlets.
Most of these providers use the same basic methodology as Beyer but calculate the data differently and offer different bells and whistles, so speed figures will be different on a company-to-company basis – and some are also more accurate than others.
As an introduction to speed figures, here’s a quick look at the top three sources:
Daily Racing Form The Form is the exclusive outlet for the Beyer Speed Figures, listing them in its past performances that also include running lines, a pace figure, some pertinent stats, info on turf and mud breeding, workouts, and a couple of sentences about the horses chances.
Equibase They offer similar past performances but create their own speed figures. They also include Pace Ratings, Race Ratings and Class Ratings to augment their speed figures. They can be found in many (most) track programs, and can be purchased online, where you’ll find the speed figures categorized and additional statistics provided.
Brisnet Has the standard past performances and their own brand of speed figures. Their past performances also offer a wealth of stats, including percentage Winners by running style at the race’s distance, a prime power number, average class figure. They also offer some helpful hints by pointing out a couple of key stats for each horse – if there are any.
The Daily Racing Blog suggests you check out these publications on-line to see which speed figure source works best for your level of handicapping. And remember, the more you learn, the more you earn.