04/28/2011 2:29PM

Kentucky Derby questions: Assessing slow speed figures


Not one of the most recent major prep races produced a winning Beyer Speed Figure of 100. How does that change the way you will handicap the Derby?

Brad FreeIt doesn’t. The absence of a high-figure standout only makes it less likely the field will include an overbet favorite a skeptic could bet against. High figures often are overemphasized in races such as the Derby, in which identifying the most likely winner requires more than identifying the horse with the top fig. Generally, the Derby is won by a horse on his way up, rather than one who is simply the fastest of the crop. One obvious recent exception is 2008 winner Big Brown.

In fields such as the 2011 Derby, in which none of the entrants is “fast,” low figures are less of a flaw. That applies this year to Dialed In, whose two route races earned low numbers of 93 and 90. Often, those numbers would be reason to discount his chances. But when the entire field is “slow,” a speed-figure shortfall is less significant.

Dave LitfinMany horses can’t reproduce their best speed figures from middle-distance races when asked to go 1 1/4 miles, especially relatively immature 3-year-olds in early spring. Moreover, many horses in this year’s Run for the Roses are within 3 to 5 points of each other going in. Comparing them to each other leads only to the conclusion that, unless Uncle Mo runs back to his best figure at 1 1/16 miles, as many as a dozen contenders are in the ballpark.

It may pay to view the Beyer Figures more as a developmental gauge and seek out favorable patterns of recent improvement. Also, the lack of a speed-figure standout naturally moves such factors as pedigree, pace, and position to the forefront of the handicapping process.

Mike WatchmakerThis year’s speed figures illustrate just how wide open the Derby is, and you may need to be more inclusive in your handicapping than in other years. There is only a five-point gap in the winning Beyers of the Louisiana Derby, Spiral, Florida Derby, Wood Memorial, Santa Anita Derby, Blue Grass, and Arkansas Derby. It will not be as easy to rule out horses as it was in other years, when the Beyer spread in the major preps wasn’t nearly as narrow. This puts a greater premium on other handicapping factors, such as who will or won’t benefit from the likely pace scenario, and who projects to be in line for a good trip. Those factors will separate potential win candidates from the others.

Major preps: Breaking the 100 Beyer barrier

Year Winner Beyer Winner Beyer Winner Beyer
2011 Archarcharch 98 Brilliant Speed 93 Dialed In 93
2010 Line of David 98 Stately Victor 94 Ice Box 99
2009 Papa Clem 101 General Quarters 98 Quality Road 111
2008 Gayego 103 Monba 92 Big Brown 106
2007 Curlin 105 Dominican 93 Scat Daddy 99
2006 Lawyer Ron 98 Sinister Minister 116 Barbaro 103
2005 Afleet Alex 108 Bandini 103 High Fly 102
2004 Smarty Jones 107 The Cliff's Edge 111 Friends Lake 92
2003 Sir Cherokee 106 Peace Rules 104 Empire Maker 108
2002 Private Emblem 100 Harlan's Holiday 98 Harlan's Holiday 101
2001 Balto Star 109 Millennium Wind 114 Monarchos 105
2000 Graeme Hall 104 High Yield 106 Hal's Hope 102
Year Winner Beyer Winner Beyer Winner Beyer
2011 Pants On fire 94 Midnight Interlude 97 Toby's Corner 94
2010 Mission Impazible 102 Sidney's Candy 100 Eskendereya 109
2009 Friesan Fire 104 Pioneerof the Nile 97 I Want Revenge 103
2008 Pyro 95 Colonel John 95 Tale of Ekati 93
2007 Circular Quay 102 tiago 100 Nobiz Like Shobiz 97
2006 N/A N/A Brother Derek 108 Bob and John 99
2005 High Limit 105 Buzzards Bay 98 Bellamy Road 120
2004 Wimbledon 101 Castledale 103 Tapit 98
2003 Peace Rules 105 Buddy Gil 104 Empire Maker 111
2002 Repent 95 Came Home 96 Buddha 105
2001 Fifty Stars 94 Point Given 110 Congaree 108
2000 Mighty 105 The Deputy 109 Fusaichi Pegasus 111

Next: Prep races worth second look »

• After Uncle Mo's disappointing third in the Wood Memorial, does he deserve another chance?
• Which horses are live longshots, and what should their approximate odds be?
• Which horse can't you wait to bet against?
• Which horse hasn't won a prep race but can win the Derby?
• Not one of the most recent major prep races produced a winning Beyer Speed Figure of 100. How does that change the way you will handicap the Derby?
• Which prep race is most likely to be misinterpreted?
• Among the surprising prep race winners, which one is for real?
• Who is the horse to beat?