doubling my (miniscule) annual salary one Sunday afternoon in the mid-70s
with one, speed figure-based bet, I became a total, raving figure handicapper.
I collected old copies of the Form from other degenerate gamblers;
made three-foot square tables by taping together sheets of graph paper;
made class par times; projected times—everything “Picking Winners”
had suggested and more—and had an absolute field day at the windows
for about a year.
only thing that wasn’t going so well was my attempt at speed handicapping
Quarter Horses. These races made up anywhere from a third, to an entire
day’s race card at the Southwestern tracks, but I could not, even with
a mountain of tables and charts, make any type of Beyer-like speed figures
really bothersome thing with Quarter Horse figures was that class-par-times—the
foundation of all Beyer-like figures—were atrociously inconsistent.
To make matters worse, the times themselves were in decimal seconds
(e.g. “17.83”) which for some reason, seemed to make inconsistencies
and errors just scream off the page. I had no problems doing the necessary
fudging of figures in “fifths” to create Thoroughbred par times, projected
times, etc., for the same tracks, but I guess decimals looked “scientific,”
so it didn’t feel right to monkey with them.
described last week, the Beyers are based on class-par-times. Horses’
actual times are compared, in an elaborate scheme, to what times should
be for horses of the same value class.
was trying to do something similar for Quarter Horses, but class-par-times
simply were not working. Except in the grossest sense, there seemed
to be no correlation between “class” and what time a group of horses
excuse of having a stand-out horse skew the time in any particular race
usually wasn’t there—entire fields were crossing the finish line in
“blanket finishes,” with no more than a length or two between 12 finishers
spread across the entire width of the track.
claimers at Ruidoso Downs would run 440 yards faster than the $5,000
claimers did, 20 minutes later—same surface, no wind—no explanation.
Allowance horses might, or might not, run slower than
both. $8,000 claimers were amazingly consistent in this mess, and the
fastest horses on the course, with the sole exception of Grade I fields.
If you tried to build class-pars by averaging the times of a season
of races, they might look like this:
> $15K purse
< $15K purse
Ruidoso in particular, with enormous Grade I purses and teeny-weeny
purses for the prep races leading up to them, just figuring out a hierarchy
of classes, with these races mixed thoroughly into more normal races,
was a much bigger trick than doing the same for Thoroughbreds at say,
Thoroughbreds, Andy Beyer says, “If the sample is large enough, the
par figure for any class will be greater than that of the class below
it. The $6,500 claimers will run faster than the $5,000 claimers, who
in turn run faster than the $4,000 claimers,” (Beyer On Speed,
key words are: “If the sample is large enough.” But
I would have to add: “And, maybe not then.”
can often learn something about the “normal” by looking at the extreme.
In this case: Quarter Horses.
Horse times are much more accurately recorded than Thoroughbreds. There
is no “flying start” (a topic for another day). Quarter Horses run
as fast as they can from the start to the finish line—Thoroughbreds
Quarter Horses run as fast as they can, regardless of class, you would
expect the class-pars to stair-step even more neatly than Thoroughbreds,
which must rate through at least part of a distance. No Quarter Horse
straightaway dash has ever been won by setting a slow pace to
throw off the competition. However, their times do not stair-step neatly.
Quarter Horse class times are just as erratic as Thoroughbreds.
Thoroughbreds do rate, it is possible to have even a Grade
I race run in splits that would make a $10,000 claimer blush. Am I
is where I have to repeat (for me, if not for you), that I am, unabashedly,
Andy Beyer’s biggest fan. As I go through this process in the next
few columns, it does not diminish that fact in any way. Andrew Beyer
is The Man.
rub is that it is rare to find a sample that is large
enough, at any track for any breed, across all classes and across all
distances. The last part becomes “key” also: across all classes
and distances, because the goal is to have speed figures that translate
mid-season at many tracks, you may be developing a good stock of 6 furlong
dirt race data. You would probably have a smaller stock of 6.5f dirt
races, and darned few 4f or 7.5f races. But remember, the first step
in creating this type of speed figure is to develop a hierarchy of race
classes at a particular track.
class hierarchy is specific to the track. Maybe on some circuits the
classes will mostly match, but the hierarchy at Belmont is going to
be significantly different from say, Retama. It should also be specific
to the distance (which I have never seen anyone do), because certain
classes of horses run certain distances far more often, while other
classes don’t run them at all. For example, having projected times
for Grade I horses at 4.5f at Fonner Park is probably a waste of time
and imagination, yet neatly stair-stepping pars will be projected for
almost as bizarre happenings.
first little quandary enters when you set up the hierarchy of classes
itself. Here are two hypothetical hierarchies, one for a major track,
one for a minor track:
do you set up this ranking? Obviously, $75,000 claimers should run
faster than $60,000 claimers—but do they? Say the distance in
question is 6 furlongs. You have three races on record this year from
60K claimers and they ran 1:09:3, 1:08:1, and 1:08:4. You have two
races by 75K claimers and they ran 1:09:3 and 1:08:4. Are 75K claimers
as a class faster then 65K claimers? Of should they be
lumped as a class of “75K – 60K claimers”—or is the sample too small
to come to any valid conclusion? This is one of the classic,
large/small sample size problems in horse racing.
you go to a big sample, rolling in several year’s worth of data, and
take an average of all 6f races run by 75K claimers, according to theory,
the average time should be slightly faster than 60K claimers.
However, since 75K and 60K claimers run routinely, day-in-and-day-out
within the same range of times, do you have a valid distinction?
about a less frequently run distance? How many years of data would
you have to accumulate to set up a basic class distinction between Maiden
Special Weights running 6.5 furlongs at the minor track above, to be
sure it is correct to place them between the 2.5K and 3.2K claimers?
suggest that you would never be able to prove that some of these
class placements are valid. There is too much variation in times
run within any of these fine-grained divisions of classes at infrequently
run distances to even mathematically prove that the classes exist
as clear divisions of speed.
this first step, of defining class divisions, is the foundation
of most modern speed figures. Next week, next step.