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Which horse will run fastest today?

Simply put, Thoroughbred speed figures are a measure of performance. And nearly all handicappers rely on speed figures, some more than others. For most, perusing speed figures is their starting point. It’s a good starting point, especially for “newbies”. But speed figures are never the be all or end all in the handicapping/wagering process.

Two forms of speed figures currently dominate the market: The most popular and most available figures are presented in ascending scale where the higher the number, the better the performance. More expensive performance figures are presented in reverse order where the lower the number, the better the performance. 

First, the process. Note that some figures are “handmade”, and others computer generated. Figure makers measure the time it takes a field of Thoroughbred racehorses to cover a prescribed distance over a particular surface and assign the winner a “raw” speed figure. They then calculate the speed of the surfaces over which the days races were run. This “variant” figure is used to adjust the raw figure for track speed or lack of speed. Variant adjusted “raw” figures are then further “adjusted” or massaged to bring today’s race figure into line with figures ordinarily earned by the horses in this race. This is where handmade figure making moves out of the realm of science and becomes an art form. 

Explaining why raw figures require adjustment is easy. Track surfaces are rarely the same; horses are not machines. Horses are equine athletes which move in and out of peak form. Horses sustain injuries. They are vulnerable to sickness. Figures illustrate past efforts and indicate whether horses are “moving” on an improving or declining form line. There is no status quo. 

Handmade figure makers, over time, develop a sense for what figures a particular horse or group of horses usually earn and should earn over similar classes, distances, and surfaces. This results in a “projected figure” for the most recent race. This figure is then checked for validity when horses from that field run back.  The race winner earns the highest/lowest figure; the also rans earn figures adjusted for beaten lengths. This is certainly a cursory explanation, but all a handicapper really needs is confidence in the accuracy of whichever figures he/she opts to use in the handicapping process.

Popular Figure Makers  

  • Beyer Speed Figures are published in Daily Racing Form. These are handmade figures created by Andy Beyer and his team of figure makers.  
  • TimeformUS figures are made by Craig Milkowski for TimeformUS and are available through Daily Racing Form as well.  
  • Equibase figures are computer generated and populate their handicapping products.
  • BRIS past performances contain computer generated speed figures as well.
  • Handicappers Data Warehouse offers Jim Cramer’s speed figures for use in computer handicapping programs.
  • Thorograph and Ragozin market handmade performance figures enhanced by adjustments for ground lost on turns and wind. The lower the number the faster the race.

How Figures Inform

  • Individual horses have potential to develop, improve and earn faster speed figures through their 5-year-old racing season. 
  • Figures, in the context of lifetime past performances, are an indicator of overall year-to-year development and improvement or decline. 
  • Figures for a particular race (usually the most recent 10-12 race lines) present a range identifying fastest last out runners to slowest last out runners.
  • Figures, in the context of recent race efforts, represent an indication of current form and current trend of form. Are figures trending forward, backward, or basically flat?
  • Figures are indicators of ability to compete at higher class levels. 
  • Figures can be used to eliminate the slowest of the slow horses from contention.  

Print the Glossary, which features a field of six $80k Optional Claiming/Allowance runners and determine what the Beyer Speed Figures indicate about the current form of each horse in the field. Use the bullets above to guide your examination. Which are fastest/slowest? Which entrants appear to be moving forward or in decline? Which, if any, might be eliminated purely on speed figures? Remember, you are only evaluating a single factor: speed figures. (The order of finish is provided at the end.)

 As popular and informative as they are, however, speed figures present a vexing question for handicappers. Because horses are not machines and the context of today’s race is rarely, if ever, the same as an entrant’s last race (different horses, different class, different surface, different track, different distance, different trainer, different jockey, etc.) there is, of course, no guarantee a horse will replicate its most recent speed figure…there is no status quo. Said another way, the last out fastest horses might not be as fast today, and the last out slower horses might be faster or fastest today. “…ay, there’s the rub…” as Shakespeare’s Hamlet pondered. Legendary racing author Mark Cramer recommends handicappers “project change” in pursuing parimutuel profit.

The Wizard contends that speed figures are overused and overvalued in handicapping. Nearly everyone knows which horses have earned the fastest figures in every race. That fact is reflected in the public betting odds. Sure, fast horses win races. But as mentioned above, the fastest horse last out may not be the fastest horse today. And “projecting change” as Cramer suggests, offer better parimutuel returns when slower horses are faster today…should faster horses fail to fire.

No single factor is more popular among bettors than speed figures. To separate oneself from “The Crowd”, the two questions to ask of speed figures are: which runners in this field are likely to run faster today than last out, and will that effort be fast enough to win? 

 The order of finish for the sample race was:

Headland, Top Gun, Roseburg, Edie Meeney Miny Mo, Braganza

 (Hey Mamaluke was scratched)

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Last updated: February, 2024

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