Updated on 09/15/2011 2:11PM

Xtra Heat's 121 an enigmatic figure


COLUMBIA, Md. - On Sept. 29, the filly Xtra Heat ran the biggest Beyer of the year. At least, I think she ran the biggest Beyer.

The development of Xtra Heat has been a fascinating rags-to-riches story. A $5,000 purchase, modestly bred, trained by an out-of-the-limelight local Maryland trainer - Xtra Heat has now earned more than a million dollars.

Nobody could have predicted this just a few months ago, back in late spring, when she had the limited look of a nice speedy filly who could only dominate second or third-rate sprinters. Her quality was suspect.

And her Beyer Figures were not improving much at all. She had run an 88 and an 85 as a 2-year-old, and she had only narrowly improved on those numbers during the first six months of her 3-year-old campaign.

That lack of development is not usually a positive sign. She certainly showed speed and courage, but she did not look like she would ever be a threat to high-quality sprinters. Her 16 1/4-length victory in the Arctic Cloud at Pimlico on June 3 confirmed this assessment.

She won easily, but her figure of 87 couldn't possibly worry the likes of Kona Gold and Caller One.

All that changed in the Prioress at Belmont on July 4, when Xtra Heat dueled through fast fractions and held on gamely to win by a neck in 1:08.20. Her Beyer of 113 shocked me. I simply had no idea that she was capable of running anything like that.

She looked sure to bounce in her next start, the Test Stakes at

Saratoga. And bounce she did, down to a Beyer of 100.

But it was the Test that finally convinced me that I had seriously underestimated Xtra Heat's talent. At a seven-furlong distance that is clearly not her best, she dueled in suicidal fractions and held on well, passed only by the top-level Victory Ride, who enjoyed an absolutely perfect trip.

Xtra Heat followed this game effort with easy, galloping wins at

Pimlico and Delaware, with Beyers of 113 and 117.

Which brings me to the fastest race of the year. Sept. 29 at Delaware Park was one of those mind-bending days for the figure-maker. The first three dirt races were unusually slow for Delaware. I made the variant a plus 19. But the final two dirt races did not fit this pattern at all. If you added 19 points to the speed ratings for those two races, you would get astronomical figures that could not possibly be accurate. So

I decided to split the variant - a not uncommon occurrence.

Races 1-4 would be plus 19, and races 8 and 9 would be plus 6. Many things can account for such a change: wind, rain, different gate positions, treatment of track surface. Whatever the cause, the contrast between the early races and the late races was dramatic and undeniable.

Then came the really hard part. Xtra Heat's race, the sixth of the day, came right between the two groups. If you put her race in the later group, her figure would be 108. If you put her race in the early group, her figure would be 121 - the fastest race of the year.

And there was a third option: If you decided that both these

alternatives were completely illogical, then you could "project" the race - giving it a figure that made sense for the horses in that race.

Could Xtra Heat's figure be in the 108 range? Well, it's certainly possible that a horse who just ran easy back-to-back figures of 113 and 117 could regress to a 108.

But two factors clinched the case against a 108. First, Xtra Heat won by a huge margin, 11 1/2 lengths, most often indicating a big Beyer.

With such an overwhelming margin a bounce seemed unlikely.

Second, the three horses who finished behind her would all have had to run dramatically worse than they had been running in their most recent efforts.

*Ivy's Jewel, the second-place finisher, had consistent recent Beyers of 103-91-97-89-90. If Xtra Heat ran a 108, then Ivy's Jewel would have run a 79 - considerably below all her latest efforts.

*Superdupermiss, the third-place finisher, had recent Beyers of

84-97-97-89-90. If Xtra Heat ran a 108, then Superdupermiss would have run a 72 - also far below all her recent races.

*Vikki Slew, the fourth-place finisher, had recent Beyers of

95-73-66-78-58. If Xtra Heat ran a 108, then Vikki Slew would have run a 62 - a possibility, but still well below her usual Beyers.

Based on this evidence of the other three finishers, the Beyer of 121 made perfect sense. Ivy's Jewel would earn a 92. Superdupermiss would earn an 85. Vikki Slew would earn a 75. All of these figures were completely in line with their previous Beyers.

I decided that 121 looked right. Not an easy decision, especially when you know you're awarding the biggest Beyer of the year to a relatively unheralded 3-year-old filly. But the evidence seemed compelling. Sometimes when you're making speed figures, these kinds of judgments have to be made. It's not all cut-and-dried mathematical certainty. It's often as much art as science.

Am I absolutely certain about Xtra Heat's figure? Well, maybe not absolutely, totally certain. But I'm confident the figure will hold up.

Still, complicated days like Sept. 29 have to be monitored very

carefully. If later evidence should indicate a necessary adjustment, then you have to put aside stubborn ego and pride of authorship, and you have to make the necessary change. Accuracy is the only objective.