If you are a casual sports fan getting ready to check out the Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown, you are going to hear plenty of talk about Beyer Speed Figures.
But, you ask, what the heck are they?
Longtime Washington Post columnist Andy Beyer created the Beyer Speed Figures, first appearing in his groundbreaking handicapping book Picking Winners in 1975.
Beyer explained that rating a horse’s ability on just the final time of the race was not good enough, because racing surfaces can vary from day to day based on the weather, how the track is maintained and other factors. He also wanted a rating system that could compare horses at different distances and at all racetracks.
By his theory, a horse earning an 85 Beyer at Golden Gate Fields going seven furlongs and a horse earning an 85 Beyer at nine furlongs at Santa Anita basically have the same ability.
Some horseplayers that read Picking Winners began making their own numbers and then in 1992 The Daily Racing Form started publishing the numbers in the past performances, giving access to everyone.
The best horses in the U.S. generally earn Beyer Speed Figures between 105 and 115. On 2016’s Derby trail, the top number was the 103 earned by Exaggerator in his victory in the Santa Anita Derby.
In two of that year’s Kentucky Derby preps, Destin stopped the timer for the 1 1/16 miles of the Tampa Bay Derby in 1:42.82. Danzing Candy won the San Felipe at the same distance in 1:43.04.
Horseplayers without the Beyers would assume Destin was the quicker horse by about a length. However, Beyer gave both colts a Beyer Speed Figure of 100. Obviously the racing surface at Tampa Bay Downs that day was playing slightly faster.
By comparison, American Pharoah earned Beyers of 105 for his wins in the Arkansas Derby and the Kentucky Derby. He earned a 102 for his Preakness and a 105 for his Belmont Stakes victory. He ended his career on a fine note, earning a 120 Beyer for his Breeders’ Cup Classic win. His 120 was the highest number recorded since Quality Road earned a 121 in 2011.
Beyer said that if his figures were around in 1973, Secretariat would have earned a 139 Beyer for his Belmont Stakes victory. The highest official numbers belong to the sprinter Groovy, who earned a 132 and a 133 in 1987.
The top Beyer Speed Figure earned by a Kentucky Derby winner since 1987 is 118, shared by Summer Squall (1990), Silver Charm (1997) and Smarty Jones (2004).
When handicapping a horse race, there are more variables than one can count, but using the Beyer Speed Figures will get you headed in the right direction.
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