JC / Railbird

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Alan posted a sharp analysis of the Florida Derby over on Left at Gate, noting that the Beyer speed figure of 93 given to Dialed In for the just-there win “is a good 6-8 points lower than one might like to see from him at this point.” It is, but the figure is also one that’s become quite typical of Derby prospects.

If you look at the Beyer speed figure earned by each Derby starter in their final Kentucky Derby prep (column PR-BSF in the spreadsheet below) from 1998-2010, you’ll notice a pretty steady decrease in the number of 100+ BSFs appearing in prep past performances. In 1998, only two starters had not earned a triple digit figure in their final prep or in one of their two prior starts as a 3-year-old (columns 2ND and 3RD below). In 2010, only two came into the Derby with a BSF of 100, and only three — Devil May Care, Sidney’s Candy, and Jackson Bend — had even earned a BSF of 100 in their careers.

Listed in order of finish. X = no BSF available.

As a group, the average Beyer speed figure earned by Derby starters in their final Derby prep has declined from 101 in 1998 to the low 90s in recent years:

Average Kentucky Derby field last-out BSFs, 1998-2010.

This year, only six Derby prospects have rated a BSF better than 100 as 3-year-olds, and only The Factor (103, Rebel) and Soldat (103, allowance) have done so at a distance greater than a mile. With the Wood, Illinois Derby, and Santa Anita Derby all this weekend, it’s likely at least one winner will break through with a solid triple digit figure. Eskendereya did so in 2010, getting a 109 in the Wood, a figure that would have stood out in Derby entries if he hadn’t sustained a career-ending injury before he could get to Churchill. It wouldn’t have done much for the field average, though, which was a mere 93.


I know some won’t like this idea, but perhaps the “problem” lies in our over-reliance on Beyer speed figures as the be-all, end-all measure of quality rather than relying on the greater subtleties of personal observation and study of race dynamics? Quantifying everything into one number can’t possibility do justice to all performances, regardless of the rigorous methodology employed. Just my two cents.

Posted by Valerie on April 5, 2011 @ 10:09 pm

Valerie, I’m so glad you brought up how the use (and abuse) of speed figures and figure-derived theories (like bounce) might be having effect on how horses are handled. The greatest evidence of over-reliance, at the top tier especially, is found by looking at lower-level tracks and races, where figures don’t have as much a place in training because no one running a $5000 claiming horse has the luxury of worrying about layoffs and bouncing and peaking. Those horses run every couple weeks so long as they’re sound (enough) and you can see in their past performances the sort of individual form cycles only barely glimpsed in most stakes runners’ records these days.

Posted by Jessica on April 6, 2011 @ 10:54 am

Andy Beyer and Beyer speed figs are the most OVERRATED thing in horse racing!

Just wondering…Who does Beyer receive money from aside from the DRF?

Posted by Beyer on April 6, 2011 @ 4:13 pm

This is what horsemen and breeders are giving the game, and they continue to think that they should rate higher purses and higher yearling prices!!!

It is a joke!!!

These pigs are so bad that even Nick Zito managed to reach the trifecta in the Derby last year!

Posted by Carlos on April 6, 2011 @ 4:20 pm

I wouldn’t say that — speed figures have been a very effective tool for handicapping and training. The numbers wouldn’t be so influential if they weren’t.

Posted by Jessica on April 6, 2011 @ 4:21 pm

Ironically, at least one producer of ‘sheet’ type figures has had horses getting faster, in general, over the last several years.

I can’t recall the name of the horse now, but three or four years ago I saw a figure given to a ‘top’ three-year-old from that year. According to his best sheet figure, he was about a dozen or more lengths faster than the great Sunday Silence.

Doesn’t make sense, does it? No, it doesn’t, and anyone with a lick of common sense wouldn’t believe it.

Posted by Nick Kling on April 6, 2011 @ 4:43 pm

Don’t be too quick to discount BSF.
Firstly they MUST me taken into consideration like other important handicapping factors.
Secondly if you look at the last 10 winners and match up their Beyers with their breeding they do very well.
An example is INDIAN CHARLIE a sprinter who had a high Beyer but no chance to win at 1-1/4.
Warning to you Uncle Mo fans-Indian Charlie’s winning progeny from Sire and grandsire average 6furlongs and 6.5 furlongs
I’ll be looking elsewhere no matter what Mo does in the Wood!

Posted by swift eddie on April 6, 2011 @ 5:15 pm

That is quite a list. Thanks for your hard work. I have become less fond of beyer speed figures as time goes on. They just aren’t all that great. There are too many variables in a horse race to boil it all down to a single number.

Posted by Ryan on April 7, 2011 @ 6:02 pm

BSFs are a tool and is just one of many a handicapper should be using They are certainly not a be all end all recommendation Don’t know for sure why they are lower but Dailed In’s win didn’t deserve higher as he labored in the stretch to get by Shakleford Maybe one reason is the horses now lack the stamina to carry their speed beyond 6f nd when reaching the longer preps they are running out of gas This I think has to do with several facts Most training is short breezes rarely over 5f sometimes 7 And then there is the breeding for sales ring and fastest furlong run by the 2 yr old goes for the highest prices Those are just 2 of the things I notice There are prob more if I sit and think about it

Posted by darlene on April 7, 2011 @ 6:10 pm

Could it be that part of the decline isn’t the fault of the numbers but rather the fact trainers are increasingly throwing underprepared horses into the Triple Crown with next to no foundation at 3 or at 2?

Posted by Ian Lozada on April 7, 2011 @ 6:11 pm

Ian … you hit it on the head.

Posted by Jason on April 8, 2011 @ 12:08 am

Nick, I remember reading about that, but I can’t remember if it was Ragozin or Thoro-Graph that had horses getting faster. It might be interesting to compare, although I’m not sure what such a study might prove, because I think Ian is onto something about Derby starters. Increasingly, getting to the Derby and winning the Derby is treated like hitting the lottery. Half the field has no business being there.

Posted by Jessica on April 8, 2011 @ 7:55 am

The only true ‘speed figure’ is winning time. Going back 70 years colts are winning the Kentucky Derby in times roughly equal to those in the 1940’s. According to Butch Lehr, on his watch at CD (30+ years) the track has undergone no major changes. So we have 70 years of ‘breeding the best to the best’, the ‘best’ raceday drugs and vet care, and horses are no faster. The same can be seen in the Preakness and Belmont as well.


Posted by Bill on April 9, 2011 @ 1:28 pm