01/15/2008 3:22PM

Broken Records


The next time someone writes a book about making speed figures, last weekend's racing at Santa Anita could be Exhibit A of how raw time and track-record performances can be incredibly misleading.

El Gato Malo's mile in 1:33.37 in Saturday's San Rafael and Indian Blessing's seven furlongs in 1:19.89 in Sunday's Santa Ynez were the quickest such main-track times in Santa Anita's 74-year history. I don't think anyone's dense enough to think that this means Indian Blessing is really a faster racehorse than Spectacular Bid, who could manage only a lousy 1:20 flat back on Jan. 5, 1980, but people who don't understand how figures are made are up in arms that El Gato Malo got a Beyer Speed Figure of "only" 98 while Indian Blessing received a 91. Some go so far as to suggest a vast right-coast conspiracy to demean the achievements of California horses.

This truly isn't the case. All the races run over Santa Anita's troublesome Cushion Track last weekend were ridiculously fast, and the figures assigned to the stakes were completely straightforward, reflecting the speed of the track in all of the races. On Saturday, for example, El Gato Malo's 1:33.37 translates to a raw Beyer Figure of 146, but a variant of -48 was appropriate and necessary to bring the day's races into line. A conditioned claimer named Familiar Stranger ran six furlongs in 1:07.62, a raw figure of 141 that was properly knocked down to a 93. A 1-for-10 allowance horse named Mi Arcobaleno ran a mile and a sixteenth in 1:40.66, a raw figure of 137. If you want to give El Gato Malo a Beyer of 105 or 110, then you'd be giving Mi Arcobaleno a 96 or a 101 instead of the far more sensible 89 he received.

It was the same story on Sunday. Indian Blessing's 1:19.89 falls right into line with a Beyer of 91 when you look at the other sprint races -- older claiming fillies went 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:02.51, and maiden-claimers and maiden-claiming graduates went six furlongs in 1:08.36 and 1:08.09 respectively.

This doesn't mean that there isn't room for opinion that some of the weekend's winners were more or less impressive than their figures suggest. That's always the case. Indian Blessing gets extra credit for contesting the pace and hanging on; Zenyatta, who got a 93 winning the El Encino, has tremendous upside potential beyond that number since she's still green and gawky and was making only her third career start. It's possible that Air Commander and Johnny Eves ran just as well earning 94's in the San Fernando as Zappa did earning a 100 in the San Pasqual because they set much faster fractions. But there's nothing wrong or biased about the figures themselves.

--Back at Aqueduct, those two stinkin' consos didn't exactly get me out for the day Saturday and I fortunately treaded pretty lightly on Sunday, because if you'd given me seven horses in the eight-horse 7th race, my lone leave-out would have been the victorious Debater ($89). That's why we have a nice little $62.304 carry into Wednesday's festivities in Ozone Park. The pre-scratch lineup:

Race 4: OF NYB N1x 1m+70 (field of 8)
Race 5: 3F NYB N1x 6f (8)
Race 6: 3M NYB MdCl 25k 6f (11)
Race 7: OF Cl10k 6f (14)
Race 8: OM N2x 1m+70 (12)
Race 9: OM Cl30N2L 1m+70(11)

Other than Jet Setting, who's listed at 9-5 in the 5th, every ML favorite is 3-1 or higher. Get to work, and good luck.

Wayne C. More than 1 year ago
teag, I think you are on to something. It would not shock me if the same thing occurs in reverse. I would go further to say that I am willing to bet that the relationship between 6F, 7F 1M etc... changes depending on the track condition. Even sophisticated charts that try to equate times at various distances are often off. I would add that you see a similar phenomenon in turf racing where the figures are much more compressed than they should be. In that case, I believe it's primarily a pace issue, but there are issues nonetheless.
Wayne C. More than 1 year ago
Steve, I think you've done a great job explaining some of the speed figure issues. However, I think a legitimate question to ask is whether the CA figures "in general" are a little low relative to NY. CA Beyer figures for the very top horses have been consistently below PAR for quite awhile now. IMO, the only way to test it is to look how east based and west based shippers do when they ship to the other coast. I don't have a database to test something like that like Beyer does. But there's at least one NY based trainer that's having a field day claiming and buying horses in CA and winning with them in NY. In addition, the number of high level CA horses that come east and run new tops seems too high to ignore. Of course there are examples the other way too, but I think there's enough evidence for it to at least be examined. The funny thing is that Thorograph actually has the CA horses running slower than Beyer.
Brian McLean More than 1 year ago
Commentator’s track record performance looked like the real deal. I saw a few 1.38’s yesterday. The 14 length margin and 24.1 final quarter were impressive.
Johnny from Las Vegas/Ozone Park More than 1 year ago
TVG has no time to worry about the time...What has been driving me crazy for years is that the "sponsor" of the Breeders Cup Sprint does not post the fractional times up while a race is running from NYRA. They put there own video feed in and put the fractions and NEVER put in final time of the race and half the time the fractional splits! I think this type of stupidity and arrogance not showing about how fast the race is being is an embarrassment for the network. The only concern is the Pic 6..
RichP More than 1 year ago
Making Speed Figures is more of an art form that science. I bought Beyers first book as soon as it came out and started making my own speed figure decades ago. In spite of the beyers being available in the form I make my own figures for New York, the Major Breeders cup preps and all the Derby preps. It's not that I think Beyer and his compatriots do a bad job. It's just that sometimes I disagree with the variant they use. Sometimes I'm right sometimes they're right. When I'm right I tend to cash at a very high mutual. Because whatever else the Beyer's are or aren't they determine who the favorite is. I checked all the numbers for the California preps as I do all the other Derby preps over the past few years when they were run. I came up with even lower numbers than Beyer did for some of the California Preps. California three year olds haven't been that fast the last few years. That happens, it seems to be a cyclical thing, where Derby winners seem to come in bunches from one set of preps or another. As for turf, I've never seen speed figures that work well on turf for routes, except when the ground is like concrete. The best you can do is use them as very lose guidelines. As closing speed seems to trump all in grass routes. Beyer and his assocaites do an exceptional job. They do suffer from the fact that different people make them for different regions. And I've rarely seen two speed handicappers numbers come out the same all the time. But Beyer and his associates do try to make them as consistent as they can. I'd love it if there were a major flaw in the figures. It would be like the days when no one had them and you got $20 for the highest speed figure horse in the race. But those days are gone for good. Now you have to get your prices in the races where figures don't work to well.
Wayne C. More than 1 year ago
One thing is certain. There are an enormous number of complexities in making accurate speed figures. That goes double when comparing figures earned on turf/artificial surfaces to dirt because the races develop so differently. That also doesn't take into account things like wind, track maintenance between races, changes in weather, wind, variance in starting gate placement from race to race, pace, and all the other things that can impact time. It's enough for a sophisticated handicapper to throw up his hands and become a class handicapper where the value actually is these days. ;-)
Blue Horseshoe More than 1 year ago
Teag, I've got to break away from C who I usually agree with and say that I think you're on to something... Consider that in 2 year old auction breeze shows, about 10.0 (give or take a fifth of a second) seconds is the fastest a thoroughbred can run and many horses can run close to that ceiling. It's only when you stretch horses out that quality and class begin to differentiate. Perhaps there is simply something about these West Coast surfaces that doesn't tire horses in the same way that we've all become accustomed to, and as a result, even cheaper horses can carry maximum speeds to a greater distance?? I don't know but maybe the answer is in this direction??
Dan MacKenzie More than 1 year ago
For your next Q&A: Steve, please comment on the general health of the Thoroughbred racing industry world wide. I am pessimistic about the viability of the sport if present trends continue. What are the long-term prospects for a profitable Thoroughbred racing industry particularly in the United States and Canada ?
Wayne More than 1 year ago
I do my homework sans Beyers, or any other figures. Then I fact check against the Beyers, but only if they are over the same track at a similar distance. Otherwise, at least to me, they are irrelevant. Teag, nice theory, interested in Steve's take on it. As for Cal vs. NY, I too would like to see a comparision on a year to year basis, but I will tell you straight away that SPA has been Superior to DELMAR in quality the last few years so it only follows that there will be more 100+ Beyers. As for horses shipping East and exploding, horsemen have told me that in part it is due to a horse that may have some problems getting off the unforgiving rock hard CAL surfaces. Running on the deeper more forgiving East Coast tracks, they do not fell the pain and run faster. This theory of course is now ancient history due to allegedly AW tracks, but makes sense to me.
Steve from Brooklyn More than 1 year ago
Fans of NYC OTB who are concerned about the possible shutdown (and we all are) should read the N Y Times piece today with comments from Mr. Crist. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/17/nyregion/17otb.htmlref=nyregion FYI NYCOTB has revamped their tv show w/ two hosts and a new set. Interesting for an entity about to shut down :-)