Beyer Speed Figures – How to Understand Them
How to Understand and use Beyer Speed Figures for Profit at the Race Track
Beyer Speed Figures are the most accurate measure of how fast a horse ran in its previous races, and they are an absolutely essential tool in any handicapper’s arsenal. They allow you to compare performances at different distances and from different tracks and are often used to quickly separate contenders from pretenders.
Beyer Speed Figures are better than the raw final times still used by many handicappers because they take into account the actual speed and depth of the racing surface on any given day. A horse that runs six furlongs in 1:10 over a lighting fast track with a two-inch cushion might run the same distance in 1:12 when the track surface has a four-inch cushion. Theoretically, for a consistent horse, the Beyer Speed Figures for the two races would be similar. A handicapper using only final times would think that the 1:10 race was better than the 1:12 race, which would be incorrect – this gives YOU an edge.
Beyer Speed Figures are designed to be interchangeable and transferable between tracks and distances, which makes for quick and easy comparisons. For example, a horse that runs a Beyer Speed Figure of 82 going seven furlongs should theoretically run a similar Figure going a mile, assuming it can handle the extra distance. And a horse that runs an 82 Beyer Speed Figure going six furlongs at Santa Anita should theoretically run a similar Figure at Aqueduct, assuming the horse can handle the different surface.
Before Beyer Speed Figures were added to the Daily Racing Form, many sharp handicappers had their own sets of figures that were calculated using a similar methodology. These figures gave them a massive edge over the majority of their betting competition – who had only final times at their disposal. Figure handicappers in the old days could get some great prices on horses that were actually faster than their competition – because nobody else knew it.
Now that Beyer Speed Figures are included in the Daily Racing Form past performance lines for all to see and use, the Figure handicappers no longer have the edge they once had, but they do maintain an advantage over the players that cling to the perceived value of raw final times. Additionally, handicappers who can see and understand the patterns revealed by the Beyer Speed Figures over a succession of races continue to maintain an edge over their rival bettors.
It is important to note that while the Beyer Speed Figures that appear in the Daily Racing Form are quite accurate, they are still only a measure of raw ability, and they do not take into account the horse’s trip, track biases, and other related factors. For example, a horse will often run a much better Figure when able to clear early to an open lead and hold it to the wire. The same horse, when confronted with pressure and unable to get the lead, will often run a lower Figure. Similarly, a come-from-behind sprinter who runs a big Figure over a tiring track favoring closers will often not run a matching figure when faced with a track favoring front runners.
Handicappers who profitably use Beyer Speed Figures know that the top Figure horse will win only 25-30 percent of the time at an overall loss. Because the top Figure horse is almost always over bet, sharp handicappers use identifiable and profitable patterns found in the Beyer Speed Figures to find overlays. They take into account how each Figure in the past performances was run with regards to trip and track bias and take a broader look at the Figures in an effort to predict what kind Figure the horse will run today, taking into account the horse’s likely trip, any perceived track bias, jockey, class, surface, distance, etc.
Creative Ways of Using Beyer Speed Figures for Profit at the Race Track
Beyer Speed Figures can be used in creative ways to produce a profit at the races. Many bettors still look no further than the highest last-race Figure in a set of past performances and assume that horse is the most likely winner, but these types win only 25-30 percent of the time at a loss.
It pays to dig a little deeper into the Beyer Speed Figures, looking for proven profitable patterns that produce overlays on a regular basis. There are times when the “Top Figure” horse is a good bet, but there are many more occasions when they are not. An understanding of Beyer Speed Figure patterns not only helps you understand when the favorite or top figure horse is a good or bad bet it also reveals a myriad of additional betting opportunities.
There are three questions you want to ask yourself when examining the Beyer Speed Figures in the past performances.
- How were the past figures accomplished with regards to the trip, track bias, class, etc?
- How do the figures relate to the horse’s form cycle and overall figure pattern?
- What figure is the horse most likely to run under today’s conditions?
After you have answered the above questions for each horse, you can intelligently decide whether a horse is a contender or a non-contender. The next step is to determine the most likely winner from among the contenders – preferably an overlay.
In some races, it will be relatively easy to separate the contenders from the non-contenders, but in other races, you will not be able to separate them no matter what you do. There are just too many horses in the race that are capable of running similar figures. You can try to separate them using trainer patterns, pace analysis, jockey and surface switches, angles, etc. Or you can pass the race.
If you are able to reduce the contenders in a race to a reasonable number, you can then dig deeper into the Beyer Speed Figure patterns looking for something other bettors won’t see. Or you can bet the contenders in a fashion that will make you a profit.
If one horse is a total standout on figures but is going off at underlay odds, it might be best played as a key in multi-race wagers or on top in an exacta or trifecta wheel rather than as a win bet. If two horses in a race are total standouts on figures but can”t be separated, maybe an exacta box of the two horses is in order, or maybe a trifecta or superfecta wheel keying both horses in the top two positions.
There are also occasions when the public will overlook a top figure horse. For example, if a horse has run better figures than the remainder of the field but has done so while finishing fifth and sixth against better horses in faster races, it is more likely to go off at a nice price.
Sometimes a horse has run a big figure in the past at today’s distance and class level, but that figure has been buried in the past performance lines by recent races in which the horse was poorly spotted at the wrong distance or over the wrong surface or running against a track bias or with a poor jockey. The goal is to determine which horse will run the best figure under today’s conditions, at today’s distance, with today’s jockey, etc. Sometimes it takes some digging to discover these horses – put they can pay great!
This is in sharp contrast to a horse that has run big figures while winning as the lone speed or while taking advantage of a track bias in its races. If this kind of horse is likely to face pressure up front, or it will not have a track bias in its favor, there’s a good chance it won’t be able to replicate those past figures – yet the horse will still get hammered at the windows. You’ll know better and will look elsewhere for a solid overlay.
Horses that have run a bigger figure than usual in their most recent races must be looked at closely. Every once in a while, you will see a horse with a Beyer Speed Figure pattern that looks like this: 47-49-46-72-49 or 47-49-46-72. Obviously, something is out of whack here. What figure do you think the horse is most likely to run in its next start? If you guessed somewhere between 46 and 49, you’d be right. There are occasions when a horse will run an uncharacteristically big figure and keep improving, but these occasions are generally reserved for young horses, which can improve dramatically.
If a figure looks like it is out of synch with the other figures, especially within the form of older claiming horses with established forms, it’s should be considered suspect. Was the horse getting first-time Lasix? A new trainer or jockey? Was the horse the lone speed? Was it in the slop? If you can’t find a reason for the sudden figure jump, you’re better off to discard it as an aberration.
More common are patterns such as 69-65-68-74. The 74 isn’t so high that it looks totally out of place, but it could be a sign of huge effort by the horse. In many cases, a horse with such a pattern will regress or “bounce” off the big effort to run a substandard figure in its next start. If the horse, in this case, came back with a 63 in its next race and was then given a rest, it could very well be expected to cycle back up to its precious figures of 65-69, especially if well suited to the conditions in its next race.
It is important to note that even though horses will often regress to a lower figure off a hard effort or lifetime best figure, these horses can still come back to win, usually at a short price. Why take a chance on a risky underlay when you can find much better value elsewhere?
The bounce factor after a hard effort is commonplace in racing. A horse will often come back off a layoff and run a big race and a good figure only to regress to a poor figure and a dull effort in its next start (with much of the public’s money on it). The third start off the layoff can often be a much-improved effort. Of course, this also depends on the type of race the horse ran in its first start off the layoff. Horses that duel and tire but that are still hard-used in the stretch in their first start off the layoff will usually regress more than a horse that simply gallops around under a hold readying themselves for their next start – which could be an improved effort.
Sprinters are more likely to regress off hard races than are routers due to the additional requirement for all-out speed in sprints, and fillies and mares are more likely to regress off a hard race than are colts and geldings. Easier to understand is that cheaper horses are more adversely affected by an exceptionally good effort, as indicated by an abnormally high figure, than are the classier horses. Classier horses generally get more time off between starts and are more capable of withstanding the rigors of racing – that’s just a fact. Finally, horses with good trainers are less likely to bounce off a hard effort than are horses with poor trainers. The better trainers know what to do with their horses between races.
Lifetime best Beyer Speed Figures recorded by young horses with only a few starts can be deceiving. These horses do not have established forms, and many are still learning to run. They can and do improve dramatically. Lifetime best figures and abnormally high figures recorded by older horses with established forms are much more reliable as an indicator off a likely decline in the next start.
Digging Deeper into Beyer Speed Figures to Get the Edge on Your Competition
In Part 3 of this article, we will take a further look at form cycles as they relate to Beyer Speed Figures.
Most reasonably competent handicappers use Beyer Speed Figures as part of their handicapping process. Still, many don’t dig deep enough into the figures to find the true overlays in a race. Why? Because it takes time and it takes work.
Many bettors will simply look for the horse with the best last race figure. More accomplished handicappers will scan the Beyer Speed Figures in a horse’s past performance lines looking for a single high figure or group of figures to get some idea of what kind of figure the horse will run in today’s race. These quick scan methods will work to a point, but they won’t uncover the truly live long shots and overlays that can make or break a day (week, month, year) at the horse races.
Serious handicappers look at every Beyer Speed Figure in the past performance lines both as a group and as individual figures race by race. When looking at the figures as a group, they are looking for patterns. When looking at each figure individually, they are trying to determine how the figure was accomplished and whether it could have been better or worse.
Why Beyer Speed Figure Pattern Analysis Works – Form Cycles
Horse betting and handicapping are as much art as they are science. Horses are not machines - they are living, breathing animals that, like humans, have good days and bad days. Think about it. How many human athletes do you know who can deliver their best performance every time they step on the field or the court or the ice. True champions are consistent beyond measure. And they find a way to win even on their bad days. This is true in horseracing too. The problem is most horse races don’t feature stars and champions.
Instead, most horse races are claiming affairs made up of ordinary horses that are not unlike ordinary people. They simply cannot perform at a peak level day in and day out. They have good days and bad days. Like people, horses can have great days, weeks, months, and even years, but there is no question that horses with less physical (and mental) talent, poor trainers, etc., are more inconsistent. These horses can run big races, just not on a regular basis. Instead, they tend to perform in cycles from bad race to good race to all in between. These form cycles are often revealed in the patterns created by their Beyer Speed Figures.
One of the best ways to determine how a horse is going to run in today’s race is to look at the overall Beyer Speed Figure pattern for each horse and then dig deeper into each race in the pattern, looking for reasons for high or low figures. With regards to lower figures, you’re looking for reasons why the horse ran the poor figure. Was the horse making its first or second start off a layoff? Was the horse racing over the wrong surface or at the wrong distance? Was a low percentage jockey aboard? Was the horse disadvantaged by its trip or a track bias? If so, maybe the figure wasn’t as bad as it looked.
With regards to high figures, you’re looking for reasons why the figure might be bigger or better than it should be. Was the horse the lone speed? Was the horse taking advantage of a track bias? Was the horse meeting lower class competition? Sometimes abnormally low or high figures will be unexplainable, but in many cases, the horse is simply going through its normal form cycle. These form cycles, which are many and varied, can be uncovered through deeper analysis of Beyer Speed Figures.
Common Beyer Speed Figure Patterns
It is generally accepted that among older established claiming horses, after three improving figures in a row, such as 65-68-71, the horse will regress to a lower figure. A few other generally accepted rules regarding Beyer Speed Figures are that older horses will run a lower figure after running a lifetime best figure and that they will also regress after running a strenuous race off a layoff. This is not so true among young horses early in their careers, which can improve dramatically at any given time.
The most common pattern involves a horse who has run a lifetime best figure or three improving figures in a row, followed by a regression to a lower figure, followed by a return or cycling back up to the previous higher figures. For example, here is a pattern involving not only three improving figures but also a lifetime best figure. You won’t always see these together, but it happens: 43-47-54-36-40-55. After improving three times in a row to a 54, the horse regressed to a 36 as the favorite. The horse then ran a little better in its next start, cycling up to a 40 but still well below its best figure. This is when most bettors abandon such a horse - after two sub-par figures. But those who stick with this kind of horse, one with an improving cycle of figures, can often be rewarded with great odds.
Another common pattern is that of a horse who has run a big race off a layoff. The strenuous effort can often take its toll on the horse, resulting in a bounce (poor race) in its next start. One of the most common patterns off a layoff is big race-bounce- recovery-big race or big race-bounce-big race. The figure patterns in this case might look like 68-42-54-70 or 68-54-67.
At other times you might see a pattern like 68-42-65-45-68-43. Good race-bad race-good race-bad race. In this case, the next race would appear to be a good one. There are also horses that seem to run the same figures all the time, such as 74-71-72-73-75-73. As long as these horses have shown the ability to win, they will always be bet, and the problem is the prices will generally be low. You will also see horses that just seem to keep improving and horses on the downswing. The former would look like 34-40-42-44-46-48, and it’s difficult to tell exactly when the improvement would stop. The latter would look like 65-62-55-42-41-38 and would obviously be a horse to stay away from, especially if dropping in class during the decline.
Pattern Analysis can Provide Amazing Insights into Thoroughbred Form
And Excellent Betting Opportunities
Beyer Speed Figure patterns are not always simple, and there will always be patterns that defy logic, but with repeated analysis, you will start to see consistent patterns that most bettors will not see. Overall pattern analysis combined with a deeper look at how each figure in the pattern was accomplished will provide you with some amazing insights into thoroughbred form and some excellent betting opportunities, sometimes in races that seem otherwise unplayable.
Occasionally you will find a horse you think is ready to cycle back up to its best lifetime figure in the same race as an over bet favorite with high recent figures. This makes for a very lucrative betting situation, especially if you think the favorite can finish out of the money in the exotics.
Because Beyer Speed Figure pattern analysis takes time and effort, most bettors won’t do it. Those who do take the time to understand the figures and their patterns will uncover overlays one after another. They won’t always win, but they will win often enough to make you a profit.
The key is to catch cycling horses at just the right time when they are ready to run their best race at a nice price – when nobody else knows it – except you - and the horse.
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