In the early 1970âs, a man named Andrew Beyer changed the way people bet on horses by developing the speed figure. Beyer, a columnist for the Washington Post and a respected handicapper, believed that bettors could select more winners if they were able to put a number on how fast a horse ran in a given race. By doing that, the speed of horses could be compared against each other more simply. The DRF publishes a Beyer Speed Figure for every horse in every race. The inherent speed of the track and the speed of the race, and the speed of the horse are the main components of the number. In the example from the DRF, Farnum Alley ran a 79 and an 80 in the last two races. (The first race, with a 53, reflected his bad start, not his speed.) If all other things were equal (a huge assumption), this horse should regularly outrun a horse with Beyers in the 60's range. Unless his Beyers go up with his next races, he will lose to a horse regularly running Beyers in the 90's and high 80's. Over time, horseplayers, race secretaries and others who see horses often will know how the range of Beyer scores fits with the class of a race, whether a lowly claiming race or a fancy stakes race. The best stakes horses are up around 120 range. The good allowance or low stakes horses usually come in around 100. Bottom level claimers typically run in the 50's and 60's.
As a general rule, horses can be evaluated according to the following scale:
Speed figures are quite possibly the most popular tool used by handicappers to identify which horse they believe can win a race today. Since their introduction, speed figures have remained remarkably consistent in their ability to quantify how fast a horse can run. There are certain pitfalls to using them, however, and the wise horseracing bettor must learn how to use them effectively. The typical use of this measure is to figure out which horses are just not fast enough to win a given race, thereby releasing the handicapper's time and attention to be spent on the other horses. Beyers are less useful for telling the handicapper who will win the next race. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, many other elements determine the race outcome besides the native speed of one horse. A race with one speed horse in it and weak competition is probably the easiest race of all to handicap, but it does not happen very often. Usually the race secretary sees to that. Second, Beyer Speed Figures are not determinative of race outcomes because most horses do not run consistently or in the same way, race after race.
Another famous student of horses, Len Ragozin, invented the term "bounce" to describe the cyclical race behavior of horses. Most horses will show a consistency or pattern in their Beyers, and then for some reason, there will be a race with a much lower number. This is a "bounce." Then, maybe there's a layoff, maybe not. The horse starts another set of races, and the Beyer Speed Figures improve. They may even go up higher than before. Then, in one race, there may be another "bounce." Good handicappers say they are able to perceive the cyclical behavior (or not) of any given horse and can judge (more or less) when a bounce is about to take place. This is a sophisticated use of the Beyers Speed Figures. The "Ragozin Sheets" attempt to take this to a much higher level.
As reliable as they are, speed figures cannot be used as a standalone handicapping tool. The information gathered from Beyer speed figures must be combined with other information to get a complete picture. Think of handicapping like a puzzle. With every piece you put in, the picture gets clearer. The puzzle you are trying to put together is which horse will win todayâs race.
One of the biggest flaws of speed figures is that Beyer Speed Figures do not consider the trip a horse had in a given race. For example, a horse that is uncontested on the lead may earn a higher speed figure because he was unchallenged throughout. Similarly, a horse that has difficulty in a race may earn a lower figure that will appear to suggest he ran slowly when the fact is that he was bothered by other horses the entire time. Learning how to assess trips should also be a part of your handicapping education.
In addition, Speed figures for races held on the grass, or turf, are not always as reliable as speed figures for races on the dirt. The reason for this is that the style of turf racing tends to be very different from the style of dirt racing. In dirt races, horses typically go fast early and slow down as the race progresses. On the turf, horses typically run very slow in the early stages and unleash all of their speed late. Because of this, the algorithm for making turf speed figures is somewhat unreliable. Use them with a grain of salt.
Finally, Beyer speed figures are of no help with first time starters, or horses that are racing today for the first time. Because they have yet to race, these horses have not earned a speed figure. It is not uncommon to see two or three races on each race card that contains a full field of first time starters.