07/12/2006 11:00PM

Stakes par figures invaluable part of book

Joseph Brown / EquiPhotos
Joey P.'s best figures from 2005 label him a live longshot in the Smile Sprint Handicap.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - The Daily Racing Form 2006 American Racing Manual came out recently. Racing fans who use the book solely for historical reference will miss out on one of the volume's most valuable features.

The item would be easy to overlook, because the ARM already is jammed with cool stuff - charts of 2005 graded stakes, past performances of graded-stakes winners, and leader lists for horses, trainers, jockeys, owners, and breeders. Along with the editorial copy that reviews the season, one could spend blissful hours just turning pages.

But who has the time when the racing season is hitting full stride? Calder bursts into summer with its fast-action Summit of Speed series Saturday, followed Wednesday by Del Mar's festive opening, and one week later the start of Saratoga. Full speed ahead.

Perhaps bettors can postpone leisurely review of the ARM and go directly to page 1,163 for a section that will help cash a bet - "Histories of Graded Stakes Events." The key element is listed on the far right - Beyer Speed Figure of the winner.

It is a magical number that is neglected too often, despite its importance. It answers this question - how fast does a horse need to run to win this particular race?

An example is the Grade 2 Delaware Oaks on Saturday. The race has carried a six-figure purse for nine years, during which time the ARM lists the winner's Beyer Figures from 94 to 101. The median Beyer (half higher, half lower) is 98, and that is the basis for speed-figure analysis of the 2006 Delaware Oaks.

A common blunder is to compare one horse's figures to another horse's figures. But at the first stage of handicapping, which is merely identifying contenders, speed figures should be compared only to the Beyer par. The Delaware Oaks benchmark is 98.

A horse that has earned a Beyer Figure within 5 points of par, and done so recently under similar conditions, would qualify on speed. In the Delaware Oaks, a horse needs a 93 or higher in a two-turn stakes. The 2-1 track favorite Hystericalady earned a 110 Beyer in her brilliant stretch-out stakes victory at Hollywood Park, while the second and third choices Last Romance (3-1) and Adieu (4-1) both fall short on speed.

Last Romance's career-best Beyer is a mere 89. Adieu earned a 96 one back, but around one turn. Saturday, she runs two turns. Last Romance and Adieu do not qualify on the fundamental consideration of speed, while two "outclassed" fillies at higher prices do fit.

Gasia (6-1) qualifies off a 95 Beyer; Amandatude (10-1) earned 92 one start back. Close enough. The flaw is neither has run in a graded stakes. It means Hystericalady - the only starter with full attributes on speed, class, pace, and condition - stands out.

Race favorite Hystericalady is no secret, but the speed-figure exercise is useful, and can be adopted as habit. Before comparing horses to each other, they should be compared to the race parameters to answer a key question. Is this horse fast enough to win this race?

Handicapping analysis is not complete without considering speed, condition, class, and pace. And while no factor stands alone, review of Beyer Figures of stakes winners in the ARM provide an information advantage.

Saturday at Calder, Lost in the Fog starts as the 125-pound highweight in the Grade 2 Smile Sprint Handicap, but there are qualified alternatives to the favorite. Lost in the Fog is not the only horse in the Smile field that runs to par.

The ARM lists winning Beyer Figures in the Smile from 101 to 121; the median figure is 111. That is par.

A speed-figure contender in the Smile would have run within 5 points of par, or 106. Those include Kelly's Landing (two 108's this year) and comeback stakes winner Friendly Island, whose best recent numbers (108, 112) followed layoffs. Lost in the Fog qualifies, of course (111 last out, 110 or higher multiple time times last year at six furlongs).

But even with speed figures, there is room for debate. Joey P. earned a 104 last time; last season he earned 107 and 108. His qualifying figures are not recent, but his improving pattern and previous established ability make him an almost fit. Joey P. enters as an intriguing longshot; individual bettors must determine what (high) price is fair.

Nightmare Affair earned a 105 last time pressing a slow pace. Gaff ran 111 in January, but his tough-trip post-Dubai effort and modest pre-January races make him difficult to endorse. Pomeroy was fast enough in 2005, but the Smile marks his first start since October; Mister Fotis earned a 113 four starts back, setting the pace at seven furlongs.

Smile contenders are likely favorite Lost in the Fog, Kelly's Landing, and Friendly Island, while Joey P. is a borderline contender who could start at an overlaid price.

Speed-figure pars are most effective on dirt (on turf, class is key). "Histories of Graded Stakes Events" in the 2006 American Racing Manual answers a fundamental query - how fast does a horse need to run to win this race?