Speed And Variants: Part 3

Charles Carroll

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Most of us don’t think of Tom Ainslie as one of the Godfather’s of pace and speed, but he laid down a few good licks.  I have a first edition, dog-eared copy of Andy Beyer’s “Picking Winners,” with Andy on the cover, looking like he’s cutting his Harvard economics class at Suffolk Downs.  That book is one of my prized possessions, and when I pulled it off the shelf recently, I was surprised to find another prize inside the front cover: a folded, yellowed, copy of tables from pages 116 and 117 of “Ainslie On Jockeys.

I had completely forgotten the paper and the book it came from, but immediately remembered placing it there for “retirement,” when my speed handicapping moved on from such tables to calculators and computers.  I had a sentimental attachment to that piece of paper.  It made me a lot of money.

One of the flukes of my introduction to handicapping, first cutting classes myself at BU for Suffolk Downs, then later doing the same thing at Santa Fe, was that I could never seem to buy a Form before getting to the track.  I don’t mean that I was forgetful—I could not buy a stinking Form.  It was probably a lucky stroke, because I spent a lot of time watching horses before I had a clue about figures.  Somewhere along the line I found a copy of “Ainslie On Jockeys” in the library and after carrying that page with me to the track a couple of times, I became a figure fanatic.

The other lucky stroke was that, at that time (early ‘70s), the crowd at Santa Fe Downs was probably the dumbest in the country.  There was a large “Horseman’s Section,” where I sometimes sat and chewed straws with friends who, on other days, I galloped horses for on the sandy Rio Grande bottom, and we hauled in occasionally for a race; and there was the stroller section, with three-generation-family outings and little girls in Communion dresses.  There was not a “wise guy” within 1,500 miles of this place.  If you handicapped with anything other than silk colors, it usually paid double digits.

Since I rarely could get a Form in advance, I would carry that piece of paper with its two tables from Ainslie’s book, one for sprints and one for routes, and do the figuring while I sat on the cement steps by the paddock between races, often with my own kid sitting next to me in a stroller.  (I thought at the time he was watching the “horsies,” but he’s now a financial wizard, so maybe the kid was making odds.)  Here is a small portion of Ainslie’s table for sprints:


½ Mile Fraction

5 Furlongs

5 ½ Furlongs













The distances went to out to 7 furlongs, and the ratings down to 65.  For the routes table, the first rating was at ¾ mile for distances from 1 mile to 1 ¼ mile.

You calculated a combined rating by adding the ½ (or ¾) rating to the final rating for the distance, using fifths-of-a-second for lengths and adding or subtracting rating points.  This was done with “key race” past performances (unfortunately not defined on those two pages, so I can’t tell you what he had in mind).  What you ended up with were rudimentary pace figures to compare horses with figures like 286, 279, etc.

I played around with these tables a couple of times—then realized they were dynamite.  Rudimentary “pace” paid.  So did Ainslie’s mention of the fact that different tracks run differently.  I soon had figures for all of the tracks on the regional shipping circuit and added my own tables and conversion factors.  Life was good.  I started getting really crabby about not being able to buy a Form in advance.

That was about when I found Beyer’s book,  “Picking Winners.”  I can’t remember being that excited before by a book that didn’t have centerfolds.  Halfway through the book, where Beyer says, “The most difficult part of speed handicapping is making the commitment to learn it,” he was already preaching to the choir.

Oddly enough, now that “The Beyers” are published, that statement is still true.

If you could simply bet the highest published Beyer, all odds would be “on,” and all value would evaporate.  The value in speed handicapping—like all successful approaches to the game—is found by people who are willing to work for it.

Having fairly decent speed figures available to the public for every thoroughbred past performance is a significant pain in the neck.  However, it didn’t turn out to be the advent of doom I originally expected—mainly because, as usual, I over-estimated the human condition.  My first reaction was, “Aw, jeez, I just spent my life working out really good speed figures; now Beyer is going to publish his; the public will have “figs;”—my odds will be down the toilet.”  Ha.

Was it P.T. Barnum or one of the robber barons who said (approximately), “Nobody ever went broke by under-estimating the American public”?  There were far more logical, and predictable outcomes of the advent of printed “figs.”

Predictable outcome # 1:  Large numbers of handicappers who previously labored to make their own figures would stop.

Predictable outcome # 2:  As a result of # 1—and the fact that few handicappers will (can) read Beyer’s books (my estimation of the human condition has diminished somewhat)—far fewer people understand the Beyers.

Predictable outcome # 3:  The vast majority of people use speed figures incorrectly.  They are still “picking winners”—witness the public “piling on” favorites, as discussed in earlier columns.

Predictable outcome # 4:  Some “handicappers” will devote energies to creating angle-formulas for “The Beyers” in isolation.

Ok, I admit I could not have predicted # 4 in advance.  I’m not yet as cynical as I want to be.  But I do think it’s an absolute hoot!  Angle-shooters, who don’t have a clue how the figures are made, are now making figures with the figures and marketing them to the utterly lost.  There will soon be an amendment to the Americans With Disabilities Act to make it illegal to laugh at this, so I’m getting my yuks in now.

These predictable outcomes are what make it possible to continue to profit by the effort of working with speed and pace figures today.

“The Beyers” are a fundamental element of handicapping today, since—whether you use them for making selections or not—they are the single most powerful factor in setting the public odds that you bet against.  If you have not read both “Picking Winners,” and “Beyer On Speed,” you should.  I am going to hit only the high points in these columns, emphasizing things that have always interested me, so you should see the unbiased version in Andy’s own words.

In order to make any speed figure, you must have some “base point” to compare against.  A major sea change for speed figures occurred when Beyer and others moved away from using track records, or averages of fastest times achieved at a track over several years.  Instead, Beyer and others observed that higher classes of horses ran faster on the average than lower classes, and they developed Class-Par Times.

You’ll have to read another book, “Handicapping Speed,” to get the full low-down but, to cut to the chase: I could not get these darned things to work on my circuit and had to come up with a different way to deal with speed.  Next week, we’ll look at the Class-Par Hierarchy, and how the world-at-large takes the first step in making ‘da figs.


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