05/07/2014 12:55PM

Jerardi: Beyer Speed Figures told the tale on Derby Weekend

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Justin N. Lane
Entering the Kentucky Derby, California Chrome's Beyer Speed Figures were as dominant as his margins of victory.

Sometimes, you just know. My only concern about California Chrome was the same one Art Sherman had – the first 200 yards. Once the colt made that a non-issue, I started looking around for my superfecta horses.

Two hours after California Chrome had dominated the Kentucky Derby, I asked Sherman when he thought the horse had the race won. He said, “The eighth pole.”

And he was not talking about the second time past the eighth pole, when California Chrome was up by five lengths. He was talking about the first time, when the colt had gotten forward position.

Once you got past all the nonsense (horses born in California don’t win the Derby, California Chrome was winning at speed-biased Santa Anita, his times were good only because the surface was rock-hard), California Chrome was a standout before the race, during the race, and after the race.

As I wrote, I loved him in early March when I saw the San Felipe Stakes, watched all his races, and got some great insight on the colt’s career from Daily Racing Form ’s Jay Privman.

California Chrome’s Beyer Speed Figures were as dominant as his margins of victory. It wasn’t just that California Chrome was running fast, but how he was running fast that so impressed me. He ran completely relaxed, no wasted energy. Then, when it was time, the colt, with one devastating move, ended his races.

The Beyer figures just confirmed what my eyes told me. This horse was an absolute standout.

After all these years, there still seems to be confusion about how the figures are computed and what exactly they are designed to do. In shorthand, they account for the speed of the surface. That is the beauty of the figures. Times don’t matter without context. How fast or slow was the surface? Once that is determined, a number is assigned that explains what really happened, how fast the horse actually ran.

There are several speed-figure services on the market. I do not know the exact methodology of all of them but certainly respect the work that goes into the computation.

Heading into this year’s Derby, there was a clear distinction between the Beyer figures and the numbers from the other services. Only the Beyer figures had California Chrome with a decided edge in the Derby prep races, with two figures better than any Derby horse had ever done. Most of the other services had many of the contenders with similar figures.

Does that make the Beyers perfect in all scenarios? Of course not. But it did make them right in the 2014 Derby.

In fact, it was a legendary weekend for the Beyers at Churchill, where 25 races were run over the two days. The horse with the top last-out Beyer figure won 15 of those races, including all six stakes and the pick six races Friday. A $2 bet on each of the 25 runners with the top last-out Beyer would have returned $107.80 on the 15 winners, a rather nice return on a $50 investment.

Let’s review.

On Oaks Day, Tiz Windy ($5.80) had a best last-out Beyer of 80 and won a first-level optional claimer with a figure of 74. On Fire Baby ($5.20) had a 98 and won the La Troienne with a 94. Marchman ($8.80) came into the Twin Spires Turf Sprint with a 98 and won it with a 99. Southern Honey ($6.40) had a 92 and won a first-level optional claimer by five lengths, earning an 86.

Fiftyshadesofgold ($6.20) got a 92 when finishing a distant second to Untapable in the Fair Grounds Oaks. She got a 94 when she won the Eight Belles. A Little Bit Sassy ($10.20) came into the Edgewood with an 83 and got an 84 when winning.

When Will Take Charge was life and death to win the Oaklawn Handicap with just a 103 Beyer, I told a friend that he was a horse who needed a rest and wouldn’t get one. He was a never-in-it sixth in the Alysheba, earning an 82. Moonshine Mullin ($15.80) had the best last-out Beyer of 108 and won the race with a 100 after surviving a speed duel.

Untapable ($4) won at Fair Grounds with a 106 and won the Kentucky Oaks with a 107. She was a winner in the first few jumps, just like California Chrome.

On Derby Day, in the first race, Doctor Peter, with a best last-out Beyer of 86, won by a head, paid $8.80, and got an 87. No Surrender ($4.20) came into the second race with a 92 and got an 83 in the win.

As an aside, the Beyers were off by 30 points on Masochistic in the third. The horse showed slight improvement from his debut race when he got a 69 after finishing fifth at Santa Anita on March 15. On Saturday, he got bet down to 2-1, won by 14, and got a 99. I can’t imagine what went so wrong in that first race. It must have been an equipment problem.

Jessica’s Star ($10.80) won the fifth after getting a best last-out dirt figure of 88. She got an 89 in her win.

Midnight Lucky ($5.20) had been off for almost a year before winning the Humana Distaff by 4 1/2. She got a 100 in May 2013 and a 95 on Saturday. Wise Dan ($3) arrived in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic with an incredible 15 consecutive triple-digit Beyers. He won with just a 94, but he is Wise Dan, perhaps wiser than ever at 7 and just doing enough to win. Captain Genius ($6.40) came into the 12th with an 89 and won it with another 89.

California Chrome ($7) you know about. He got pushed up to 5-2 when all that late money arrived on Candy Boy. I’m not sure what that was about. I knew for two months exactly what California Chrome was all about.