05/11/2014 9:26AM

California Chrome and his Derby Beyer

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There has been a lot of talk about the historically low 97 Beyer Speed Figure California Chrome received for winning the Kentucky Derby, and I wanted to throw in my two cents on the subject.

Before I do, I should state that I am a big believer in speed figures, and have been making my own since 1976. I make my own to supplement Beyer Figures because it is indeed true that making speed figures is as much art as science. The relative speed of racing surfaces constantly change, sometimes during a single racing card, sometimes for reasons as mundane as the way a track is being watered between races. One figure maker will often handle these changes in relative surface speed differently than another might. That’s where the art component comes in, and is why you might see discrepancies in figs from different sources. But as much of a believer as I am in speed figures, and as dedicated as I am to them, I also know they are only one tool of many in the handicapper’s toolbox.

Commercial speed figures were first widely made available to the public in 1991, when The Racing Times included Beyer Figures in the past performances. And after all these years, two things about the public’s reaction to speed figures still surprise me. The first is how many people apparently don’t understand even the most fundamental aspects in how figures are made. The other is how people take figures so literally.

Some of the literal reaction to California Chrome’s 97 Derby Beyer – “he’s not any good,” and “the horses who finished behind him are even worse” – is disconcerting, because it shows an unwillingness to look beyond the superficial. The truth is, there are reasons to be very skeptical of that 97.

If only California Chrome, and just one or two others who finished prominently in the Derby, had fallen off Beyer-wise from their previous outings, and everyone else ran as fast as they did or improved on their last starts, then it wouldn’t have raised any red flags. There would have been no reason to be suspicious as to whether the Derby was indeed a slow race all on it’s own.

However, in this Derby, an incredible 15 of the 19 starters received lower Beyers than they did in their prior starts. In fact, it is incredible when such a large percentage of the field tails off Beyer-wise in any race, and is immediate cause to question the veracity of the winning fig.

The only ones who improved their Beyers in the Derby were Commanding Curve (who advanced to a 94 finishing second at Churchill after getting an 89 finishing third in the Louisiana Derby), and Harry’s Holiday and Vinceremos. And the Beyer improvements in the Derby from Harry’s Holiday and Vinceremos are nothing but illusions, because they were coming off total non-performances in the Blue Grass, in which they were both beaten the length of the stretch. And We Miss Artie received the same 85 in the Derby he got in the Spiral in his last start.

Every other starter in the Derby ran slower than he did in his prior start. It is completely counterintuitive for so many horses to fall off this way, and on the rare occasions when it happens, it begs for an explanation.

You don’t have to look far for a good one. Derby Day in Louisville was sunny, windy, and dry. There was a two hour and 43 minute gap between the previous main track race and the Derby, and the last time the main track was watered was after the Derby field walked over from the backstretch, which I would estimate to be somewhere around 30 minutes before the Derby was run. It seems completely logical to conclude that, given the perfect storm of drying conditions (wind, sun, low humidity), Churchill’s main track for the Derby was drier and slower than it was for the earlier main track races.

But for argument’s sake, let’s say that the 97 winning Beyer assigned to the Derby is unassailable. If California Chrome had never run faster than that uninspiring number before, then it could be argued with merit that he is nothing special, and that the horses he decisively beat on Derby day are worse than that. However, that 97 Derby Beyer does not exist in a vacuum. The fact is, California Chrome has run faster – much faster – and did so in his prior two starts when he earned a 107 Beyer for winning the Santa Anita Derby, and a 108 for winning the San Felipe.

My take is, California Chrome was clearly the best horse winning the Kentucky Derby, and in this particular case, it doesn’t matter if he ran fast, or not. We already know California Chrome is fast. He already has run fast. Twice. And that is still more than can be said so far for any his contemporaries.

Bob Dorff 12 months ago
The intense focus on Beyer's can bite you where it hurts most. Speed is a factor ... but only one. If the others let CC have his own way, he'll most likely WIN. But I don't think the other jockeys will allow him to do what he wants.
Raymond Felder 12 months ago
mike chrome is the horse to beat and if he wins the preakness he will wear the crown. the only horse chrome has to beat is bayern. good luck all. does anyone know if the blk e susan is a dd with the preakness?
Bustedbox2 12 months ago
Bingo! Who else has run two Beyers within shouting distance of 110?
Michael 12 months ago
It was the high winds and nothing more. They were gusting to 30 mph that day.
Franck Rice 12 months ago
Always enjoy your work. This is totally off topic, but can you or anyone with DRF update the condition of Mr. Crist?
Nathan 12 months ago
c.c. will be lone speed and loose on lead in Preakness. long gone at 1-5. unless a few rabbits appear in the Belmont, the same scenario.
Mark Urbanski 12 months ago
lone speed? there are 4 other horses in the race who like to run up front. what are u smokin?
Geronimo2123 . 12 months ago
The lone speed? What pps are you looking at. He is the class here, but there are at least 3 others that want the lead or near the lead. Possibly 4.
Robert Finch 12 months ago
I think the jury is still out on California Chrome, but those fast times on the Santa Anita drag strip are as open to speculation as the slow time at Churchill, reality probably lays somewhere in between.
Ann 12 months ago
Just like the fast times and big figures at the Stronach speedway East, aka GP?
TomN 12 months ago
and your wager fort his weeks Preakness?
David D 12 months ago
I respect Mikes view as well as Beyers system. I have been around horse racing for over 35 years and looking deeper into this I would like to add in a few other reasons why lower the 2014 derby had a lower rating. 1, Many of the best horse leading up to the derby got hurt. 2, The pace was slower at 6f, not the speed duel that was advertised 3, Cali Chrome was rated off the pace and only had to run part of the Stretch 4, With the new point system leading up to the derby, horses had to run harder in prep races before starting in this years derby. So with that said, you had alot of weak and tired horses going into the derby and only horses who were fresh and ready to run had something left in the tank for the 2014 derby. Cali Chrome ran the PERFECT RACE. Set just off the two leaders who Determined the pace. Making his Patented, turn of foot and burst like no other horse in the field and turned down in the final 60 yards turned into the 97 rating. With all the speed being entered into the Preakness and Cali setting 3rd maybe even 4th behind fractions like 23.20 46.60 110.20 you might see Cali Chrome break a 110 beyers figure. Lets all hope and pray that Cali Chrome stays sound and can enter the BELMONT with a chance to take down the Triple Crown. It may be the only chance in our lifetime that we may get to see a TRIPLE CROWN Winner with how horse racing has changed over the last 30+ years. GOOD LUCK CHROME
TomN 12 months ago
David, with your 30 around the game, I would ask your thoughts of Smarty Jones and Big Brown?
David D 12 months ago
Hey Tom, I would say that both Smarty Jones and Big Brown were both great horses. I am not sure that it was a smart thing to run Big Brown in the Belmont after getting a three-inch quarter crack was found after the Preakness. Smarty Jones, ran very well in the Belmont. But the speed duel in the Belmont did did not help his case and with a strong closer in Birdstone the 7 races in 5 months caught up with Smarty Jones. I'll Have Another, also another great horse that ran into injury just before the Belmont. With 3 races in 5 weeks and horse skipping the Derby for the Preakness and some horses missing the Derby and Preakness to run in the Belmont makes it much harder now to win the triple crown. Lets all hope and pray that Cali Chrome can stay sound !
TomN 12 months ago
I am going to let you in on a little secret David. I knew as soon as B Square drew pp#1 in the Belmont, he was a bet against. If you look at his best races they were all performed outside of others. Once he was inside the others in the race made sure he stayed there.. I am not a vet, but the crack may have been a minus, but from what I recall the connections[whom I detested from the get go] thought the problem was solved. Iavaronne was a manipulator from the git go, blaming Desormeaux was another call I made before it was even in print...I love the connections , but now I hear he will be 3/5?...good luck with that. There is speed in here and Baffert knows how to get his runner ready for the Black Eye Susans
Ann 12 months ago
And he was taken off of his steroids.
Wayne Crimi 12 months ago
Great job Mike.