Q&A with Thoro-Graph Founder Jerry Brown

Horses race during Saratoga’s summer 2020 meet. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Jerry Brown is the founder of Thoro-Graph, one of the leading handicapping products for horseplayers in North America. Brown launched the company during the 1980s and it soon became a go-to resource for those seeking detailed statistical analysis of racehorses, with proprietary performance figures presented in a graphical format.

Brown spent a few minutes in January talking about his company, playing the horses, his work consulting for Thoroughbred owners, and his love of Saratoga.

We know you’ve been involved in racing for decades. Talk about how you first became involved in racing and how you developed Thoro-Graph.

I started as a horseplayer and was actually sitting reading a Daily Racing Form in a place where we used to go when we cut school, when (speed-figure pioneer) Len Ragozin came by and asked me if I needed a job. This was in the West Village, Greenwich Village. My father was about to throw me out of the house if I didn’t get a job, so I went to work for Ragozin as a clerk, and saw that it was something I could be really interested in. I became a professional gambler using his data, and started managing a racing stable using his data, and after three years was third in the country in wins. He and I ended up not getting along, so I split away from him and started a company that ended up being Thoro-Graph.

What sets Thoro-Graph apart from other handicapping products, such as Ragozin or Beyer Speed Figures?

Performance figures in general are different from speed figures in that we incorporate things that speed figures don’t. We incorporate ground loss in the figures, weight carried, and the effect of wind on the time of the race. And theoretically, all of us who measure performance figures are trying to measure the same things. But we have different methodologies for doing so, and they result in a different end product. A lot of people using our data in handicapping contests and to manage horses have found that our figures are more accurate than anyone else’s figures.

How important are Thoro-Graph figures in identifying young horses that have the potential to develop into graded stakes winners or Kentucky Derby contenders?

There are two basic elements to using our data: one is how fast is the horse when he runs his race, and second is, how likely is he to run his race. To measure that, we do put the figures on a graph so that people can make a determination about the horse’s form cycle. There are completely different ways of using those things for betting on horses and purchasing and managing horses. My clients have bought 95 horses on my recommendations that have gone on to win stakes races, including Rachel Alexandra, Victory Gallop, Distorted Humor, Da Hoss, and lots of others. And that is an extremely sophisticated and complicated business. You’re looking at the peaks of their cycles, different types of form cycles, different age groups, different surfaces, and incorporating that in some degree with different trainer patterns. Certain trainers push their horses earlier than others.

On the betting side, you’re just trying to find a horse that’s going to run well today. And in some cases, trying to find a horse that’s not going to run well today. If you’re looking to beat a favorite, what I like to do better than anything else is trying to find a favorite that could not just lose but will not run well. I’m trying to get him out of the exotics completely. That’s the kind of thing people are trying to use our data for when handicapping.

Jerry Brown

What do horseplayers spend too little time focusing on and what do they spend too much time on?

They spend too much time on things that are completely irrelevant, like class. One thing they almost never spend time on is (looking at) time between races. In terms of how much time a horse needs to recover from a big effort and also, not just the time between individual races but time between big efforts. If a horse ran a big race and it took him four months to come back from a big race, it’s unreasonable to expect him to run that well again three weeks later – the horse just can’t handle that, it takes something out of him. Horseplayers don’t look nearly enough at the time between races.

In terms of trainer intent – this is not particularly involved with speed figures – once you’ve dealt with owners or trainers, you start looking at handicapping a different way. You begin to understand that trainers aren’t really giving anything away. With certain types of dropdowns (in class) for example, with a big barn if they drop a horse down they don’t really care, but with a small barn if they’re dropping a horse down to where it’s obviously going to get claimed, they just don’t like the horse. That’s just one example.

What are your go-to wagers when handicapping?

My thinking about handicapping is this: I play races, not horses. The first question you need to ask yourself about handicapping is, why do I like this race? It may be that there’s one horse I really like, and he’s 4-1 or 5-1, and in that case you just make a win bet. On the other hand, it could be that what I like about this race is that there’s an even-money shot who I think is not going to run well, so I’m going to bet against him in exotics. I may box three horses against him. You know, it’s about favoring my view of the race as opposed to trying to make the race fit my type of bet.

The Spa. (Penelope P. Miller/America's Best Racing)

What’s your favorite racetrack?

Oh, Saratoga of course. It’s still about the only one I really spend any time at. I’m up there every summer, usually four weekends. I get down to Gulfstream Park, usually one weekend. But once you’ve been to Saratoga a couple of times, it’s highly addictive.

Have you found one or two Derby horses yet?

It’s really too early. Essentially, what you’re looking for, the classic profile is a horse that gets good late at 2, but that’s changed a little recently into a horse that’s moving forward into the Kentucky Derby. That’s basically it. If you’re making a decision based on what they’re doing in January, you’re three months too early. Movement into late March and early April is what you want to see. You want to see a horse that’s running at the level it would take to win the Derby at that point. You’re looking for them to make a forward move into the Derby, but not a big one. Occasionally you get a big one, like Mine That Bird.

For anyone interested in Thoro-Graph, where would you encourage new users to start?

There is a fair amount of introductory material on our website for people to look at. There are different types of products that we’re selling in terms of data, and we’re also doing consulting for people who buy and race horses. We also developed Thoro-Graph Players Services, which is a partnership we have with New York Racing Association for people to get free data as they bet through NYRA Bets.

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