Photo courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire
Here’s a handicapping riddle.
When does 1:12 equal 1:25 or 1:38?
Easy. When you’re constructing speed figures.
Speed figures have become an increasingly popular handicapping tool which helps to level the playing field when horses that have been racing at different distances clash.
Once the domain of the few, speed figures began to flourish once Andrew Beyer published his ground-breaking book “Picking Winners” in 1975. In it, Beyer detailed his methodology for creating par times that remove some of the mystery in dealing with clockings at different distances.
As illustrated above, Beyer found that a time of 1:12 for six furlongs was the same as 1:25 for seven furlongs and 1:38 for a mile – a one-turn mile – and assigned them a Beyer Speed Figure of 94. Figures for faster times were proportionately higher.
Yet that speed figure of 94 is only part of the puzzle. With standardized numbers, it’s easier to judge whether a racing surface was slow or fast that day. To incorporate that added dimension, speed figure mavens also create a table of pars for each class, establishing a speed figure that a winner of a certain type of race should record.
A $25,000 claiming sprint at Aqueduct, for example, might have a par of 85. If the winner of that type race earns an 87, then that race gets a +2. At the end of a card, races are broken down by sprints and routes, turf and dirt, and the pluses and minuses are averaged in their respective category. If all the sprints average a minus-2, then that 87 would be upgraded to an 89.
That’s the nuts and bolts of the process, and if you’re intrigued by the Beyer format, you can see it applied daily in the Daily Racing Form’s Beyer Speed Figures.
There are also other speed figures services. Ragozin, which was compiling speed figures before Beyer’s book focused a spotlight on the trade, and Thoro-Graph, both use additional elements like ground-loss, weight carried, and wind speed. Both of those services also strive to paint an accurate picture of a horse’s form cycle. One of their key philosophies is that a horse needs about four weeks or more of rest after an effort that saw his speed figure jump to a career-best.
Other companies, like brisnet.com and equibase.com, also offer their own brand of speed figures with their past performances, so if you don’t have time to craft your own speed figures, you can have someone do all the math and calibrations for you.
You can leave it to them to decide if 1:37 3/5 is actually faster than 1:12 2/5.