12/07/2011 3:58PM

Jerardi: Top Beyer Figures a thing of the past

Tom Keyser
Drosselmeyer, Mike Smith up, wins the Breeders' Cup Classic, earning a modest Beyer Speed Figure of 104.

Where have those 120 Beyer horses gone?

I miss them. You should, too.

When I broached the subject of this column to Andrew Beyer, he said it was going to be depressing reading.

True enough, but also, hopefully, educational.

I have questions. Perhaps, somebody has answers.

The 2011 Breeders' Cup Classic got a 104 Beyer Speed Figure. Those horses are supposed to represent the best of the best and that is the best the winner, Drosselmeyer, could do.

It was eight lengths from first to last, the very definition of mediocrity.

What is going on here? Was I imagining that we used to have many seriously fast race horses in this country? Was it so long ago that my memory was faulty?

No and no.

And it really wasn't that long ago.

I went back 20 years to look at the fastest horses a generation ago and how the best figures have evolved through the years.

What I found out was the Beyer Figures by the top stakes horses were relatively similar from 1992 to 2005. And then it all started to slow down. With a few exceptions that don't last long (Uncle Mo), the best horses just keep getting slower on the Beyer scale.

Imagine a horse like this today? The last seven races of a campaign: 116, 116, 118, 117, 115, 117, 114. Four Grade I wins. That was the 2003 Horse of the Year, Mineshaft.

Check this season out. Eight Grade 1 wins. Beyers of 108, 114, 116, 121, 114, 117, 118, 111, 111, and 117. A perfect 10 for 10 culminating with a win in Classic.  That was Cigar in 1995.

If the 1995 Cigar had run in 2011, Jerry Bailey could have stepped out of the ESPN booth with his suit on, gotten aboard, and the horse would have crushed everything even more convincingly than he did then.

Or how about this horse? In 1997, he got a 125 in the Pimlico Special and finished second. In consecutive runnings of the Massachusetts Handicap, he got a 122 and a 121. He won the 1997 Classic with a 120. And he wasn't even close to the fastest horse that year. Formal Gold crushed Skip Away twice that fall.

Formal Gold was the fastest horse of the 1990's. His final three Beyers of 1997: 126, 124, 125. And he lost the race when he got the 126. Will's Way beat him by a nose.

The fastest horse of the 2000's was Ghostzapper. He got a 128 in the 2004 Iselin, a 120 in the Tom Fool, and a 124 in the BC Classic. He got a 122 in the 2005 Met Mile.

When a horse gets a 110 these days, it is cause for celebration. Not that long ago, it was commonplace.

Smarty Jones got a 118 in the 2004 Preakness. Point Given got a 117 in the 2001 Travers.

Tiznow got a 116 and then a 117 in his consecutive Classic wins in 2000 and 2001.

Artax got a 124 in the 1999 BC Sprint, a 123 in the Carter. If any horse got figures like that today, nobody would believe it. Or he would be winning every race by a hundred yards.

On March 19, a 3-year-old named Maclean's Music got a 114 in his debut at Santa Anita, winning by 7 1/4 lengths. We at Beyer Central got very excited. We stayed excited when the second horse, Flightofalifetime, came back to win his next start and confirm the race figure with a 94. He had gotten a 95 when second to Maclean's Music. The third horse got a 88 and then an 87.

A problem has arisen, however. Maclean's Music has been in the witness protection program. He has not raced since that dazzling debut. Flightofalifetime won his maiden, faded badly in a May stakes, and has not run since.

So, the durability issue is an answer to the Beyer decline at the top. The foal crop was 40,000 in 1990, probably around 25,000 this year. That has to be a factor.

I know drugs - legal, less legal, and illegal - will be a popular answer. I don't know how to quantify that, but I am open to suggestions.

Synthetic surfaces started to become popular around the time the Beyers of the best horses began to fall off a cliff. But I am just looking at dirt numbers, so I am not sure what that means either.

Maiden, claiming, and allowance horses are, more or less, about as fast now as they were 5, 10, 20 years ago. But the top stakes horses are appreciably slower.

Remember Xtra Heat? Her last two Beyers coming into the 2001 BC Sprint were 117 and 120, earned in small stakes at Delaware Park. She was 17-1 in the Sprint at Belmont Park. She got a 118 Beyer. And finished second to Squirtle Squirt, who got a 119.
You can't make this stuff up. You just have to look it up.

And that was only a decade ago. A horse with consecutive Beyers of 117 and 120 going off at 17-1?

Those were the days.

Best Beyers, 1993-2011
(Up to 1 Mile)

Year Horse Beyer
2007 Midnight Lute 124
1999 Artax 124
1999 Artax 123
1999 Artax 123
1999 Kona Gold 123
1998 Elusive Quality 123
1996 Prospect Bay 123
2005 Ghostzapper 122
2003 Aldebaran 122
2002 Swept Overboard 122
2001 Swept Overboard 122
1997 Elusive Quality 122
1994 Holy Bull 122
2005 Commentator 121
2003 Shake You Down 121
2002 Left Bank 121
1999 Lexicon 121

Best Beyers, 1993-2011
(Over 1 Mile)

Year Horse Beyer
2004 Ghostzapper 128
1997 Formal Gold 126
1997 Gentlemen 126
1997 Will's Way 126
1999 Formal Gold 125
1997 Skip Away 125
1993 Bertrando 125
2004 Ghostzapper 124
1997 Formal Gold 124
2005 Commentator 123
2005 Saint Liam 123
2004 Midway Road 123
2003 Candy Ride 123
2001 Aptitude 123
1998 Silver Charm 123
1998 Wild Ride 123
1997 Tejano Run 123