05/23/2012 4:53PM

Jerardi: The science behind Beyer Figures

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Barbara D. Livingston
I'll Have Another's 101 Beyer for winning the Kentucky Derby was five points better than his career best at the time.

This is Beyer Speed Figures 101, the remedial course. After I wrote a column two weeks ago entitled “Kentucky Derby Beyers are on the wane,” I noticed some of the comments. As I kept reading, one thing became very apparent: We here at Beyer Central needed to spend some time explaining the fundamentals of making figures because there were many misconceptions.

The figures are not, as was suggested by some of the comments, subjective. This is science not art. It is based on mathematics. A figure is not a performance rating; it is a speed figure. It is not an opinion. There is no bias. The numbers are the numbers.

Essentially, figure makers want to know how fast a horse ran in relation to the speed of the track he ran on. Surface speeds change day to day, depending on weather, maintenance, and many other factors.

[MORE: Andrew Beyer on changing the figure for the Derby Trial]

Think of it this way. You have two human runners of equal ability in a race. They run side by side, one on sand, the other on concrete. Obviously, the runner on concrete is going to win every time.

If all track surfaces were uniform, final times would be sufficient to tell us with horse is faster. But they are not.

Andrew Beyer’s classic mid-1970s book “Picking Winners” explained the methodology behind the figures and explained the unexplainable to many players, including me. The raw times of races were converted to numbers to make the calculations less cumbersome.

The “eureka!’’ moment for Beyer was when Harvard classmate Sheldon Kovitz explained what now seems obvious – a fraction of a second is more significant in a shorter race than a longer race. That led to the creation of accurate parallel time charts that are able to relate times at different distances.

A runner, who finishes a second slower than the 100-meter record, is pretty good. A runner, who is a second slower than the 1,500-meter record, is a superstar.

If you want to learn more about parallel time charts, read “Picking Winners’’ or “Beyer on Speed.” The charts are the underpinnings for accurate speed figures.

We take all the times on a specific race card and go through them race by race. Back in the day, it was all done on paper. Now, we have a chart-like computerized printout that shows the last five Beyers for each horse in a race, in addition to that race’s par time, what that class of horses has traditionally done over a period of time.

Then, we note the difference between what was expected (par times, recent Beyers) and the reality. For each race, we assign a difference. Then, we average those differences over an entire card and assign a variant. We take the variant and either add (if the times were slower than expected) or subtract (if the times were faster than expected) from the raw times for each race. Then, we have a Beyer figure for each race on every card in America.

Seems there were a lot of questions about the Beyer assigned to I’ll Have Another in the Derby. Let’s go over the card.

The times were very fast all day. The second race was for maiden special weights going 6 furlongs. The time was 1:10.06 which equates to a raw figure of 106. The par time for that group of horses at Churchill Downs is 83. Combine that with what this lightly raced group had done in the past and you might expect them to run about an 80. So let’s call it a difference of 25 points or 2.3 seconds at 6 furlongs.

Shackleford won the seventh race, going 7 furlongs in 1:21.06, a raw figure of 131. He had gotten a 106 in his previous start, again a difference of 25 points.

Groupie Doll set a 7-furlong track record in the ninth race, getting the distance in 1:20.44, a raw figure of 140. She won by 7 1/4 lengths. Combine the margin with the time and it was pretty clear her race was exceptional.

The time for the Derby was 2:01.83, a raw figure of 129. It was obvious Bodemeister was slowing down in that final quarter so you could not evaluate the final time off his 108 in the Arkansas Derby, 220 yards shorter than the Derby. So Beyer, who does the Churchill figs himself, looked at what the other four horses in the top five had done in recent races and looked at the Derby through that lens.

When he took all the dirt times and their differences through the entire day, he determined the variant was -28. Which gave Groupie Doll a 112 and I’ll Have Another a 101, five points better than his previous Best Beyer.

One commenter wondered how I’ll Have Another, who ran the mile and a quarter in 2:01.83, could get a 101 while Smarty Jones (2004) ran the distance in 2:04.06 and got a 107. Now, you should know, but just so it is clear, the times on that sloppy track in 2004 were much slower than 2012. The track variant was a -4. Smarty’s time equated to a raw figure of 111. Thus, he got a 107.

The Pimlico surface last Saturday was much slower than the surface at Churchill. So even though I’ll Have Another’s actual time (1:55.94 for a mile and three-sixteenths) equaled a raw figure of just 110, he got a 109 Beyer because the variant was a -1.

Here is another way to look at I’ll Have Another. He beat Creative Cause by a nose in the Santa Anita Derby and got a 96. He beat Creative Cause by 3 lengths in the Derby and got a 101. He beat Creative Cause by 9 lengths in the Preakness and got a 109.

Creative Cause is running the same race. His last three Beyers are 95, 97 and 96. I’ll Have Another is just getting faster.

The tipoff on the big Preakness Beyer was the margin from second to third. Bodemeister ran back to his Arkansas Derby and I’ll Have Another ran him down anyway.

Some comments suggested the figmakers make decisions based on personal preference. Hopefully, this lesson clears that up as well.

There was much consternation over the great Zenyatta’s figures. Hers were calculated in the same manner. She was the proverbial horse who ran just fast enough to win. She got a 95 when she beat Rinterval by a neck in the 2010 Clement Hirsch. Does anybody think Rinterval was suddenly going to get a 110 just because she was running against Zenyatta? The data said 95 so it was a 95.

When Zenyatta had to run really fast to win the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Classic, she ran really fast, getting a 112. When she almost caught Blame in 2010, she got a 111.

Again, the Beyers are an objective measurement of a horse’s speed in relation to the speed of the surface. They are a way to evaluate what horses have done in the past and decide how that relates to what they might do in the future. We constantly update our data base, accounting for changes in surfaces, sometimes changing the parallel time charts and par times, occasionally going back over particularly difficult days and races when more data is available. The fundamentals, however, never change.

Video: Crist & Watchmaker on Speed Figures

michaelcancilla 9 months ago
Is a paralell time chart anything more than raw times for each class level at each track, every distance thanks
carol More than 1 year ago
Not true....Apple Blossom's
Bob Rose More than 1 year ago
They are a muck basket full of manure! Why would any one care anything about what any moron that stated publicly Zenyatta is just a synthetic specialist. DUH...
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
thank you for your detailed explanation,i use beyer speed figures to determine a lot of things about a race,i think they are a great tool that needs to be combined with other factors one piece of a bigger puzzle but very usefull,to the critics i would say the raw time is right there and youre welcome to make your own figures or draw your own conclusions,the beyers are just an extra tool.
Bryan Tripoli More than 1 year ago
The figure is inherently flawed. It requires opinion from the figure maker, whuch ruins any chance at true consistency between the various figure makers around the country, and brings up the issue of human bias. Do you really expect us to believe that Boemeister and I'll Have another, wheeling back in two weeks, and cutting back only a 16th of a mile from the Derby, improved 8 beyer points from their Derby efforts? To me, an extra 16th of a mile added on to the end of the Preakness wouldn't have lowered the figure 8 points because they were tiring badly. Maybe 2 or 3. Run 1/16th further in the Preakness I bet my house that the fig doesn't come back lower than 105. The track at Churchill was harrowed twice before both the CD Sprint and the derby, when it had been harrowed once before each of the previous races. The track was clearly (even visibly) deeper during the Derby than during the previous races, including the win by Groupie Doll. Too bad the Beyer figure doesn't account for something like that. Another serious problem is Beyers assumption that the 3rd and 4th finishers ran nearly the same beyer fig that they did in their last race. What evidence does he have to suggest that they ran to their previous figures?? What evidence is there to suggest Dullahan and Went The Day Well didn't improve off their previous bests with the added distance? Absolutely none. As for I'll have another improving from his previous best beyer by 5 points, not to say the horse didnt improve off his last effort, but I think that more had to do with the bias to rate west coast horses lower than east coast, which leads back to human opinion being a factor in the making of a figure, which in turn makes the entire process of making a beyer speed figure flawed. I think I'm going to go take a beyer and relax.. Aspirin that is P.s. dont even get me started on turf beyers.
MJTetzlaff More than 1 year ago
Making good speed figures is equally art and mathematics. The sample size for one day of racing is just too small. The 'maker of figures dude' has to rely on a lot of experience and has to examine how each of the races were run in order to come up with the mostly likely daily variant. Even then, the variant is subject to revision in light of later races—some days are just too tough. Moreover, you have to be sensitive to the possibility that the track wasn't equally fast (or slow) for the entire day (the odds that it was are actually quite low!). It's not so easy to come up with good variants. But if you have an experienced person making speed figures, you can't do any better; a computer would be awful at the task.
MJTetzlaff More than 1 year ago
Making good speed figures is equally art and mathematics. The sample size for one day of racing is just too small. The 'maker of figures dude' has to rely on a lot of experience and has to examine how each of the races were run in order to come up with the mostly likely daily variant. Even then, the variant is subject to revision in light of later races—some days are just too tough. Moreover, you have to be sensitive to the possibility that the track wasn't equally fast (or slow) for the entire day (the odds that it was are actually quite low!). It's not so easy to come up with good variants. But if you have an experienced person making speed figures, you can't do any better; a computer would be awful at the task.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I dont care about beyer #s in the relation this article pointed out, but I love when a MSW 2yo turf race runs and the top 6 finishers are covered by 2 lenghts and the beyers range from 92-87, these 2yo making their first or second starts are already at stake level talent in their first few races, but the 2nd through 6th finishers fail to break their maiden for 3-5 starts and all of a sudden the beyer gets adjusted to what it should of been but never any notice that it happened, although people lost tons of $ listening to these insane #s. Also guess who trained the winner? either baffert or pletcher. If its a homebred trained by an average trainer the beyer is a 78, but a pletcher 2yo in training buy for $450,000 gets the 92.
Nicholas Carraway More than 1 year ago
That's ridiculous.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
what is? that its true? i agree.
Nicholas Carraway More than 1 year ago
Yes, of course. Beyer/DRF calculate the speed figures in favor of particular trainers. "People who endorse conspiracy theories are especially likely to feel angry, mistrustful, alienated from society, and helpless over larger forces controlling their lives" (Abalakina-Paap, cited in Gartner, 2009).
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you think people spending tons of $ on horses that have potential to earn millions of $ in the breeding shed have no factor on a stupid # in the drf you should never visit any website again. Well at least until you figure out how the world works. Your quote is priceless too, especially in the context it was used in that example.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"People who endorse conspiracy theories are especially likely to feel angry, mistrustful, alienated from society, and helpless over larger forces controlling their lives" Whaaaa? I had to take off my aluminum foil hat on this one.
Robert Dixon More than 1 year ago
Dick Jerardi did a perfect job explaining the Beyers to the uninitiated. It is an accurate depiction of final time of a horse. However, that is just one factor in the handicapping process. I believe that is why some people downgrade the number. Jerardi is a great writer and gentleman. Does anyone know when the next DRF handicapping expo will be held?
sal ear More than 1 year ago
wel....why are all the people posting here complaining/insulting? Just ignore the Beyer Figures; tell your friends they're nonsense & have no merit. Why go nuts? Who's forcing you to even think about - much less view - this info? I personally have no knowledge of how well they work (or if they DON'T work). If I thought they were useless - I'd look at other info. WTHeck???
R. Martin More than 1 year ago
I use the Beyers with much success! First off, I take the last Beyer (1) and I pencil it to the left margin: then I add the last two (2) and divide by two and ink it on the right margin; then I add the last three (3) and divide by three and use a marker to highlite it. Then I add the last five (5) and divide by five and place the corresponding number above the horse's name. Finally I add the last eight (8) Beyers and divide by eight and that number is placed next to the total earnings of the nag in question. I follow this process with each and every horse since the Fibonacci summations in combination with the magical Beyers should yield results on steriods. Then I start with the top horse and go:"Ennie, Minnie, Miney, Mo, bet the horse with the biggest toe". It has worked for me on countless occassions. Try it. You'll like it.
Cole Putzier More than 1 year ago
So you never bet on freshly shod horses? Or am I confusing biggest toe with longest toe?
R. Martin More than 1 year ago
Best to "lay the odds" with Betfair on the freshly shot horses still in their stalls before the starting gate opens. That way you need not be confused between biggest & longest.
Leah Demeter More than 1 year ago
that gave me a good chuckle. :) do you have one for the piggy toes?
paul cervenan More than 1 year ago
And that gets you "Sanctimonium"! Hey , R. Martin, that was great. I liked it.
Nicholas Carraway More than 1 year ago
R Martin, I did try it yesterday at Bazinga Downs and won $20,000. I had to improvise a bit because some horses didn't have enough racing experience to accumulate 5 or 8 BSFs. Also, I'm not familiar enough with equine anatomy to distinguish toes. But you're a genius, nonetheless. THANKS!
Leah Demeter More than 1 year ago
just to be sure, there are no toes anywhere on a horse... it's part of the cute rhyme. unless I am missing some racing term here.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Glad I could guide you to profits, Nick. I have beaten Bazinga Downs myself---beautiful place, reminds me of Hialeah in its prime! Hope we meet at Bazinga in two weeks and use their simulcasting to SEND IT IN against the classically named IHA.