03/01/2017 10:00AM

Jerardi: Why we boosted the Beyer Speed Figure for the Clark Handicap

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Churchill Downs/Coady Photography
Gun Runner had his Beyer Speed Figure for winning the Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs raised from 104 to 111.

After the Beyer Speed Figure makers go over a day’s card and load the figures into the DRF system, the process is not over. We continually look back to see if the figures need to be tweaked.

Some days are relatively easy, with the figures for each race falling into line, the variant simple to compute.

As Andrew Beyer, who does the Churchill Downs figures for the Beyer team, went over the times, it appeared that last Nov. 25 at Churchill Downs was one of those days. Appearances were deceiving.

The variant was minus-25 in Beyer terms, the races aligning nicely. Then, there was the Clark Handicap.

“The circumstances surrounding the Clark Handicap were very unusual,” Beyer said. “The data looked straightforward. The condition of the track appeared consistent through the entire card. When the Clark received a figure of 104, some consistent horses earned lower-than-usual figures. But the winner, Gun Runner, had earned numbers of 101-104-102 in his three prior starts, so a figure of 104 for him made sense. ‘Case closed,’ we thought.”

Case reopened.

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“Because the Clark was the last major race of the year for Grade 1 older horses, most of the horses in the field were idle for the next two months,” Beyer said. “But when they ran again, their performances were eye-catching.”

Shaman Ghost, second in the Clark, 2 3/4 lengths behind Gun Runner, came back to run second to Arrogate in the Pegasus, getting a 112 Beyer, far better than the 95 he got in the Clark. Hoppertunity, a very consistent horse with a Beyer series of 103-104-101-105-105 and 10 consecutive triple-digit Beyers prior to the Clark, got a 93 that day. He came back to win his next start with a 102.

When Gun Runner returned and won the Razorback Handicap at Oaklawn in a romp with a Beyer of 110, it was obvious that something was amiss.

“Eight horses have now run back from the Clark, and seven of them improved their figures – four of them by 15 points or more,” Beyer said. “With so much evidence pointing toward the same conclusion, we raised the Clark figure to 111. This change made the horses’ performances in the Clark more consistent with their prior and subsequent races.”

That 111 makes Gun Runner the third-fastest horse for 2016 in dirt races beyond a mile. Only Arrogate, with 122 and 120, and California Chrome (119, 113, 112 and 111) were faster. That is some serious company.

There were 10 dirt races on the Nov. 25 Churchill card. The surface was yielding relatively fast times, with a six-furlong conditional $8,000 claimer going in 1:09.63 and a one-mile $7,500 claimer in 1:37.77.

The nine one-turn races made perfect sense, but after getting more data, it seems as if the only two-turn race, the 1 1/8-mile Clark, run in 1:48.50, did not make so much sense in relation to the other dirt races.

“Why was the time of the Clark so slow?” Beyer said. “We don’t know. But sometimes figure makers encounter days when one-turn and two-turn races have different characteristics and it’s necessary to employ a separate track variant – the number measuring the inherent speed of the racing surface – for different distances.

“This may have been the case on Nov. 25 at Churchill, but this theory is impossible to verify because the Clark was the lone two-turn race on the Churchill card.

“Although we frequently adjust figures after they are first published, we are generally reluctant to do so in high-profile races, and we almost never make changes so long after the fact. But Gun Runner and the horses behind him clearly deserved more credit than we initially gave them.”