Updated on 09/17/2011 10:35PM

Timeform-to-Beyer not simple math


NEW YORK - Much of the focus in determining the chances of the 21 European runners in Saturday's Breeders' Cup at Belmont Park will be centered on their Timeform ratings. Indeed, perhaps too much attention will be paid to those ratings, and while their value cannot be underestimated, the manner in which they are interpreted could spell the difference between backing a winner and throwing your money away.

There is hardly a published handicapper in America who does not subscribe to the theory that by subtracting 12 to 14 points from the Timeform rating, one will magically come up with its Beyer Speed Figure equivalent. Some have even referred to this simplistic procedure as a "rule of thumb."

Any handicapper who subscribes to that theory should prepare to have his thumbs badly bruised, for it just doesn't work that way.

The Timeform rating differs from the Beyer Figure rating in some of the criteria by which it is derived. More importantly, the Timeform rating is offered as a tool to enable bettors to determine the winners of races run in Europe, primarily in Britain and Ireland.

As the Timeform editors put it in the introduction to their weekly "black book," "The merit of each horse it is possible to weigh up is given as a rating, in pounds, and arrived at by the use of handicapping techniques which include careful examination against other horses." Note that these other horses do not include American-trained Thoroughbreds.

Timeform continues: "The scale used for Timeform ratings represents around three pounds a length at five furlongs, two pounds a length at 1 1/4 miles, and one pound at two miles."

The editors then explain that their system is based on the idea that each horse is rated as if for a handicap within its age group. Timeform divides all horses into four age groups: 2-year-olds, 3-year-olds, 4-year-olds, and 5-year-olds and up.

If a 3-year-old is rated 118, that horse is considered to be of the same merit as a 4-year-old rated 118. This, however, is where it gets tricky. In order for that 3-year-old to have an equal chance with the 4-year-old in a given race, it must be in receipt of the equivalent weight off as dictated by the European scale of weights. So in a one-mile race in late October, those two horses would be rated as having an equal chance only if the 3-year-old were receiving the European scale's three-pound allowance.

Thus, if the 3-year-old Ad Valorem and the 4-year-old Majors Cast were to run back to their previous efforts in the Breeders' Cup Mile, Majors Cast would, according to Timeform, finish ahead of Ad Valorem, as Majors Cast was rated last time at 121, Ad Valorem at 119. Ad Valorem will receive the scale's three pounds from Majors Cast in the Mile, so Ad Valorem is still two short of Majors Cast.

Timeform also supplies a written description of each horse gauging its best distances, its favorite type of ground and track, and any temperamental problems the horse might have. All of this is then digested by the handicapper to aid him in his selection in a given race.

By this it can be seen that the raw Timeform rating, when used in determining a horse's chances in America, must be handled with care. Subtracting 12, 13, or 14 from the raw rating is not merely fraught with danger, it is the lazy man's way of interpreting European form.

Proof of this is revealed in an examination of Timeform's ratings for American graded races, provided by their Boston-based representative who uses the same criteria as his colleagues in Europe.

For winning the Woodward, Timeform rated Saint Liam at 122+, Beyer at 106, a difference of 16. For his second-place finish in the Whitney, Saint Liam received a Timeform of 128, a Beyer of 123, a difference of 5.

Borrego got a Timeform 124+ and a Beyer 110 for winning the Jockey Club Gold Cup, a difference of 14. His victory in the Pacific Classic resulted in a Timeform of 123 compared to a Beyer of 113, a difference of 10. Timeform gave him a 106 for his second in the Hollywood Gold Cup, Beyer a 107, a difference of minus 1!

Numerous similar examples abound, all of which should put the smart handicapper off the "minus 12 to 14" system. Timeform gave Lost in the Fog a 116+ for his win in the Bay Meadows Speed Handicap, Beyer a 114. Timeform gave the same horse a 123 for his King's Bishop victory, Beyer a 105.

In last year's Breeder' Cup Filly and Mare Turf, Ouija Board earned a Timeform 124, but Beyer gave her only a 108. The favorite for this year's Juvenile, First Samurai, earned Timeform ratings of 119 and 118 in his last two starts, compared with Beyer Figures of 101 and 96, differences of 18 and 22.

For Leroidesanimaux, the Timeform-Beyer differences in his last four starts are 14, 16, 11, and 8.

None of this is to disparage either the Timeform ratings or the Beyer Speed Figures. The ratings game is, after all, an attempt to objectify a horse's ability through subjective means. Human beings, even speed handicappers, are prone to error, and horses don't pay any attention to their assigned ratings.

If one uses Timeform ratings within the context of European racing only, one will be off to a good start in determining a foreign invader's chances in America. The real work comes in gauging things like the class of race, quality of competition, early pace, trouble in running and state of the ground.

But if you subscribe to the "minus 12 to 14" theory, and you leave Belmont on Saturday with only enough money to buy a can of Campbell's soup for dinner, don't blame either Timeform or Beyer. Blame yourself.