11/27/2002 1:00AM

Top figure doesn't mean low value


LAS VEGAS - When should you bet the horse with the top Beyer Speed Figure? There's no way to establish rigid rules or guidelines on such a broad topic without getting into a review of every conceivable handicapping angle and variable. But, I would suggest the following: If you are looking to play a top-figure horse, look for something out of the ordinary, something just a bit unusual, something that might deflect the public's attention just enough to create some value.

If the top-figure horse ran a big race last time out - and it's right there up front in the most recent past performance line - in 95 of 100 cases that horse will be pounded at the windows. Many of these horses run very well, but don't expect to get much value. If there's some edge, however, some oblique angle, some element of concealment to the top figure, then you may have something more worthwhile.

The hidden figure

Before Beyer Speed Figures were commonly available to most bettors, a horse who earned a competitive figure when he was beaten many lengths in a swiftly run race could slip by the public. If, for example, he was beaten 10 lengths in a fast allowance race but still had a 75 Beyer, he might be dropped next time out to a $35,000 claimer in which that 75 would top the field.

Fifteen years ago such a figure was hidden behind the poor running line. Today, of course, you can't really hide anything. Still, there are times, even in our over-informed age, when such horses will be decent value.

Cases of neglect

Sometimes the public simply overbets a horse for reasons having nothing to do with Beyer Figures. It could be because of a big-name trainer or rider, or a big drop in class, or because the horse has a reputation. Whatever the reason, it could make the horse with the top Beyer Figure a bigger price than might normally be the case.

Back figure

A horse like Whenmyshipcomesin is the most appealing kind of top-figure horse - one with an element of disguise obscuring his latent talent. In the fifth race at Calder on Oct. 17, Whenmyshipcomesin was part of a full field of 10 on the grass. Five of his competitors had earned figures in the low- to mid-60's. But Whenmyshipcomesin had already run a figure of 71 on the turf, and that was as a 2-year-old the previous December. With normal development he could be capable of running an even higher figure as a 3-year-old.

And so he did, making a strong wide move and drawing away to win by nearly a length, running a big Beyer of 81. Because he had a number of intervening mediocre dirt races, he paid a decent $9.60.

Top figure plus

This is a rare, higher-octane version of the best Beyer. It should be applied to a horse who not only has the top Beyer Figure in his previous race, but also could be cycling up to an even higher figure earned a few races back.

Always Crown Royal is a recent example of this kind of horse. In a lowly maiden claimer at Philadelphia Park on Oct. 22 she had the top Beyer Figure from her last race. No other horse was within 12 points of that number. After an earlier 46 she had bounced to a 22, and then had improved to a 35 last out - the clear top Beyer Figure.

If she could cycle back up to a 46, the rest of the field would be left wondering which way she went. She won easily. She should have been 3-5, but paid a reasonable $5.60.

The de facto top figure

This angle applies primarily to young horses returning to the races after substantial layoffs. They do not have the actual top Beyer in the race. But if you take their top figure from the last few races before they were laid off, and then calculate for potential improvement over time, they could very well produce the top figure.

In the seventh race at Aqueduct on Nov. 20, Lady Adare (see past performances, above) fulfilled these requirements. The top figure in the race was Polish Silk's 81. But Lady Adare had run a figure of 74 in early February when she had just turned 3. According to Andrew Beyer, for every month of a layoff we should add a point or a point and a half to a young horse's figure. In Lady Adare's case, that would mean a possible improvement of 9-15 points, which would give her the top figure in the Nov. 20 race.

Of course, handicappers cannot know for certain whether a layoff horse is fit and ready or sound. In Lady Adare's past performances, however, there were some positive hints: She had a long, steady workout pattern, and she was not being dropped in class. Even so, such horses are always a big risk, but at odds of 9-1 she was well worth it, and she won.