05/18/2010 11:00PM

Preakness day figures an intrigue

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PHILADELPHIA - Through the first five dirt races on the Preakness card, the day's variant was pretty straightforward. It was a -2.

First-race winner Primary Witness ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.89, a raw Beyer Speed Figure of 88. The par for the class was 87. Primary Witness's last two Beyer Figures had been 83.

The third-race winner, Convoy Ahead, ran six furlongs in 1:11.62, a raw Beyer of 83. His last Beyer was an 81. The par was also 81.

The next dirt race followed a similar pattern.

Top sprinter Comedero ran six furlongs in 1:10.16, a raw Beyer of 103. His most recent figure was 100.

The solid stakes winner Blame ran his 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.40, a raw Beyer of 103. The colt had gotten a 102 in his most recent start, a win in the Clark Handicap the previous November.

It was about that time when Andrew Beyer walked up to me, as he often does on big race days, and said that if the time of the Preakness was 1:56.20 for the 1 3/16 miles, the Beyer would be 104.

I wrote that down on my program. I made no note of Taqarub's time in the stakes two races before the Preakness. But I should have. Something had changed.

When the horses hit the wire of the Preakness, I looked up and expected to see a time like 1:56.80.

With the top four all separated by two lengths, I assumed it could not have been a big time or even a Beyer as high as 104.

So I was very surprised when I saw 1:55.47 on the board. That would be a raw figure of 112, a Preakness Beyer of 110.

Now, if Lookin At Lucky had won by six lengths that might have been possible. We have all seen 3-year-olds blow up in the springtime, but Lookin At Lucky never wins by much. In fact, he has never won a race by as many as two lengths.

If the Beyer was 110, Lookin At Lucky would have improved his best Beyer by 12 points. Again, not impossible, but not under these circumstances.

The question was: how were all those other horses so close at the finish line?

If it were a 110, First Dude, with a best Beyer of 90, would have gotten a 109. Jackson Bend, with a best Beyer of 100 and no Beyer above 93 in 2010, would also have gotten a 109. And Yawanna Twist, with a best Beyer of 96, would have earned a 107.

Clearly, all of that could not be possible. So what happened?

The surface got faster after the Blame race. How much faster? Exactly eight Beyer points, or slightly less than a second at the 1 3/16-mile distance.

The tipoff was in the Taqarub race. The horse ran the six furlongs in 1:10.02, a raw Beyer of 106. Just four lengths separated the first eight horses. There was nothing to suggest any of them could run a 100 Beyer, much less most of them.

If the variant had stayed the same, Taqarub would have gotten a 104. Not at all likely, given his recent Beyer history of 82, 77, 80, and 73. That group really looked like a mid-90s crowd.

The Preakness simply confirmed the Taqarub race as different from the earlier part of the card. So did the maiden special race that ended the card. Granted Ruler, a seven-length winner, ran six furlongs in 1:11.74, a raw Beyer of 82. The horse had gotten a 44 and 69 in his previous races. The big margin suggested he had improved, but all the way to an 80? Again, not likely, especially given the Beyer history of the horses who finished behind him.

So, it was determined that the last three dirt races on the card had a variant of -10. Thus, the Preakness became a 102, which made a lot more sense given the Beyer history of the horses involved.

Beyer himself does the Maryland figures. He put a "c" next to the last three dirt figures so he can check them when the horses run back.

Any time there is an aberration during a card, the figure-makers use some kind of notation next to those races to see if, down the road, the figure can be confirmed or needs to be scrutinized again.

If making the Beyers were as straightforward as the first five dirt races on Preakness Day, this really would not be all that complicated.

There are many days when the variant is reasonably obvious. Then, there are days like Preakness Day when what was obvious at one point in the card was no longer obvious by the end of the card.

Why did the surface get faster? I have no clue.

But that is not really relevant. What is relevant is that the Beyers take into account the speed of the surface, even if it changes during a card.

What is also relevant is that this is a particularly slow group of 3-year-olds. Super Saver's 104 in the Kentucky Derby is the high-water mark for this bunch. The 102 in the Preakness strongly suggests this group is not going to get much faster any time soon.

Having said that, I have come to the conclusion that Lookin At Lucky may not be a horse best judged by the Beyers. When given a clean run, the colt has never lost. After looking like he was going to win easily at the top of the stretch, it really did look like he wanted to hang with the rest of the horses. Then, when First Dude challenged, he got interested again.

Lookin At Lucky has now won four Grade 1 races, which is twice as many as the rest of the Preakness field combined. So, the 2-year-old champion did not beat much. He did not run terribly fast. But he did win, which would appear to be his best attribute, and a really good attribute to have.