05/23/2012 4:33PM

Beyer: Changing the Derby Trial figure

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Calculating speed figures is often a straightforward process. But sometimes the results on a given card can be ambiguous or inscrutable, which was the case when Churchill Downs ran its opening-night program April 28.

As the person responsible for the Beyer Speed Figures at Churchill, I struggled to understand the data before sending my numbers in to the Daily Racing Form database. I later revised them -- a revision that included a change in Hierro’s winning figure for the Derby Trial from 96 to 103. And the revisions may not be finished.

Before the fifth race on the card, a powerful hailstorm swept across Churchill, causing a 50-minute delay. The rain made the sloppy track slower for the fifth and sixth races. It got much faster for the 10th and 11th, and the ones in the middle (including the Trial) were inscrutable.

Under such difficult circumstances, our figure-makers will "project" a number for a race, estimating what would be a logical figure based on the previous performances of the horses. Then we’ll monitor the subsequent efforts of horses coming out of that field to judge whether our projection looks accurate.

In the Derby Trial, Hierro (lifetime best figure: 89) won by 1 1/2 lengths over Paynter (lifetime best: 93) and Stealcase (lifetime best: 79). Based on these performances, I doubted that the race could be higher than a 96 -- with Paynter duplicating his best effort and the other two improving sharply.

Three weeks later I learned otherwise. On the Preakness Day card at Pimlico, Paynter delivered a smashing performance to win an allowance race with a figure of 106. Based on that evidence, I boosted the Derby Trial figure, using the track variant for the fast races at the end of the card to produce the figure of 103. I tweaked other figures on the card after seeing what horses had done in their subsequent performances.

Making speed figures is not an exact science and sometimes it’s a messy process. But the best way to cope with difficult conditions is to use human judgment (as opposed to relying on a computer program) and to be flexible enough to change the figures when the evidence changes.