Beyer’s success: It figures
July 04, 2017 3:00 AM
by Steve Davidowitz
Many horseplayers who have followed my writings through the years know Andy Beyer and I have had a special relationship since the day we met on a park bench at Saratoga in August, 1971.
Some even know Beyer was struggling with his game at the time even though he had tremendous passion for it. That passion certainly helped Andy score his first winning season at the next Saratoga meet and simultaneously led to his creation of a revolutionary handicapping tool.
The new tool eventually would be used to measure the actual speed of every horse in every race at every distance over any racing surface and would ensure an honored place for Beyer’s name for decades to come.
I am, of course, talking about the Beyer Speed Figures Andy began to create in concert with his friend Mark Hopkins, and I’ll let Andy explain how they were developed and are presently provided to Daily Racing Form.
Said Andy: “When I started experimenting with speed figures – just before you and I met – there were different methods used to compare how fast horses actually ran. But, the existing “speed charts” included seriously flawed track variants, in play for decades.
“So, with the aid of a college classmate who helped me devise a variant that was mathematically sound, I compared the winning times for each race against what seemed to be the relative ‘pars’ for each class of competition. Converting those clockings into a rudimentary set of speed figures was just the first step. I soon realized the need for a more accurate approach.
“The next idea advanced the project quite a bit,” Andy continued.
“I decided to review each horse’s previous clockings along with the horses he or she competed against. This helped me create an estimate of how fast each race should have been run. So, after I compared actual race clocking to my estimates – which I called projections – I was able to make a sensible track variant. This big breakthrough became the foundation for my privately researched speed charts and my new Beyer Speed Figures as spelled out in my first book, ‘Picking Winners,’ published in 1975. I’m happy to say all that information has stood the test of time.”
Although Andy, Mark and their six employees continue to rely on manual figure making, they now use computers to best align their speed figure charts to the dozens of tracks they work on. While Beyer insists “very few tweaks have been necessary to adjust our calculations for dirt races,” he admits “significant changes were needed to improve our Figures for turf races.
“Our turf figures had been scoring lower than our dirt numbers, which used to make sense,” Beyer said. “But, in recent years, we realized turf horses not only had achieved parity with dirt horses, we knew any adjustment would require more than simply adding a few points to our turf Figs. So, after a one year research project that Mark oversaw, we made an accurate turf adjustment in 2015.”
Beyer says he still does the Figures for a half dozen tracks and every is via human calculation and oversight. “Whenever a Fig. doesn’t make sense for any reason, we review it carefully and make a change if necessary. The 2017 Excelsior Handicap at Aqueduct in April was a case in point,” he added. “That was one of the toughest we’ve ever had to make.”
In that race, two modestly accomplished horses – Send It In and Tu Brutus – battled to the wire and earned exceptionally high figures of 119 and 118. This drew strong criticism from a TVG commentator who said the high numbers “showed why the Beyer Figs. can’t be trusted.”
Beyer countered: “Those high Figs. were consistent with all the other races on the card and the horses that finished 14-plus lengths behind the top two, earned Figs. that made perfect sense for all of them. We therefore concluded the top two finishers just happened to run the races of their lives and our Figs. were accurate for this race.”
On a personal level, Beyer looks back fondly on the exciting life he lived as a gambler during the years when the Figs. were his private property. But, he’s gained great satisfaction from seeing his numbers in DRF-PP’s since 1992.
“When they first appeared, horseplayers welcomed them; but most owners and trainers were highly skeptical,” he said. “So, it’s been gratifying to see the industry gradually accept our Figs. Even the biggest players in the game, the breeders, now accept them, which is verified every time you see a big Beyer Fig. cited in an ad for a top stallion prospect.
“While our Figures won’t tell you everything about a horse’s ability, they can help identify overhyped horses and point out when special horses perform in an exceptional manner. For example, when Arrogate strung together Beyer Figs. of 122, 120 and 119, you knew you had seen the real thing.”
Speaking of the real thing, that describes Andy Beyer perfectly.