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Horse racing speed figures explained

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In the course of the last 45 years, the biggest advancement in handicapping has probably been the emergence of speed figures.

What is commonplace now was in its infancy back then when speed variants ruled the land.

The variants were simplistic. They were averages based on how many lengths above or below the track record the races on that day were.

Speed figures took that process to a new and infinitely more helpful level.

Though he was not the founding father of speed figures, Washington Post turf writer and handicapper Andy Beyer made them popular through his 1975 book “Picking Winners.” In it, Beyer explained his take on speed figures and how he developed numbers that could reflect horses’ performances at different distances.

For example, times of 1:12 at six furlongs, 1:25 at seven furlongs and 1:38 at a mile all equaled a 94 to Beyer, who used a numeric system in which the higher the speed figure, the better the performance.

Beyond that, a horse with a Beyer Speed Figure of 104 ran faster than a horse with a 94, even if those figures were earned at different distances.

Then Beyer established a table of pars, which was the expected speed figure for a winner at each level in the condition book. Let’s say the par for a maiden special weight sprint was an 84 and the winner ran an 86, that would mean the track was fast by two points.

Beyer applied that process to all of a card’s dirt races and turf races (keeping the dirt and turf races separate) and then he would average the pluses and minuses to determine whether the track was slow or fast. That means if the average for the day was minus-2 then the aforementioned MSW winner who ran an 86 would get credit for an 88 Beyer Speed Figure.

Horses who finished behind the winner had their figures calculated by how many lengths behind they finished, taking two points off for each length behind in a route race and three points per length in a sprint.

It takes time, but handicappers can craft their own speed figures.

They can also save time by purchasing speed figures from a variety of outlets.

Most of these providers use the same basic methodology as Beyer but calculate the data differently and offer different bells and whistles, so speed figures will be different on a company-to-company basis – and some are also more accurate than others.

As an introduction to speed figures, here’s a quick look at some of them:

Daily Racing Form: www.drf.com

The Daily Racing Form is the exclusive outlet for the Beyer Speed Figures, listing them in its past performances that also include running lines, a pace figure, some pertinent stats, info on turf and mud breeding, workouts, and a couple of sentences about the horses chances. DRF sells past performances via print and online, and electronically also offers Formulator past performances which offer more stats and the ability to customize your searches for data and stats.

Equibase: www.Equibase.com

They offer similar past performances but create their own speed figures. They also include Pace ratings, Race ratings and Class ratings to augment their speed figures. They can be found in many track programs, and can be purchased online, where you’ll find the speed figures categorized and additional statistics provided. Electronically, Equibase also offers Stats RaceLens, which allows handicappers to test theories and angles using Equibase’s in-depth database.

Brisnet: www.brisnet.com

Has the standard past performances and their own brand of speed figures. Their past performances also offer a wealth of stats, including percentage winners by running style at the race’s distance, a prime power number, average class figure. They also offer some helpful hints by pointing out a couple of key stats for each horse – if there are any.

TimeForm US: www.Timeformus.com

Is an eye-pleasing online product that offers speed figures plus extras such as a Pace Projector, Running Styles with Early/Late Ratings, Race Ratings, Trainer Ratings, and color-coded fractional times that indicate whether the pace was fast or slow.

Ragozin Thoroughbred Data: www.TheSheets.com

The father of speed figures is generally considered to be Len Ragozin, who teamed with Len Friedman to create and sell highly popular and effective speed figures in the years before Beyer’s book. Aside from the basic speed figure principles, the Ragozin Sheets (a.k.a. The Sheets, because they are printed on sheets of paper a little larger than a notepad) incorporate wind, weight carried and, most importantly, ground loss into their speed figures. Their numbers are based on a system of a lower number being the better number. A 0 can win you the Kentucky Derby, while a 20 means your horse belongs in claiming races. Aside from the actual figures, the Ragozin system is built on projecting how a horse will react to its last race. By using The Sheets, a handicapper looks at a horse’s last few races and then projects whether the pattern of those numbers indicates it will move forward, regress, or duplicate its last figure. The Sheets do not provide standard past performances lines as found with the other companies or accompanying stats.

Thoro-Graph: www.Thorograph.com

Thoro-Graph was founded by Jerry Brown, who used to work for Ragozin, so the figures are constructed akin to The Sheets. One difference between the two is that Thoro-Graph offers a condensed running line and also plenty of trainer, jockey, and breeding stats to complement the speed figures. Thro-Graph’s speed figures are generally a few points lower than Ragozin so it’s not unusual to see a horse get a 0 on Ragozin and minus-3 on Thoro-Graph and it will say the same thing about how that horse stands in regards to its rivals.

Longshots to consider when betting the Shoemaker Mile

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Monday’s Shoemaker Miles Stakes at Santa Anita Park is a great race for a number of reasons. For starters, the Shoemaker Mile is a Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series “Win and You’re In” race that offers the winner a guaranteed spot in the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Mile at Keeneland.

Watch the Shoemaker Mile on Monday, May 25 from 6-8 p.m. ET on NBCSN, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

The race also features last year’s Preakness Stakes winner, War of Will, making his season debut. Despite his triumphs on the dirt in 2019, War of Will started his career on the turf and his pedigree suggests that he’s very likely to be just as successful on the grass. That said, the Shoemaker Mile will be his first start off of a six-month break, and I’m going to try to take a swing or two with some horses who could upset the apple cart at longer odds.

Let’s start out with the horse on the rail, Without Parole. He won the Group 1 St. James’s Palace Stakes going a mile at Ascot back in 2018. His three other career wins have all came at this mile distance as well. Granted, he hasn’t won in six races since the St. James’s Palace but he did finish a fast-closing third two starts ago in a much tougher U.S. debut in the TVG Breeders’ Cup MileIrad Ortiz Jr. rode Without Parole in that race and he will reclaim the mount on him again on Monday.

Without Parole has only had one race this year and it was in the Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational in which he finished second to last. However, he had several excuses right from the start of that race when he got squeezed coming out of the gate. He also raced in traffic throughout and got cut off several times in the stretch before Frankie Dettori — who had come from Europe to ride him at Gulfstream — finally just wrapped up on him. The Pegasus World Cup Turf also was a race that didn’t allow him to run on Lasix (furosemide) after he’d shown significant improvement racing on Lasix for the first time at the Breeders’ Cup.

Stream the 2020 Shoemaker Mile live here

How much of a factor might Lasix be for some horses? Well, let’s next look at the horse who finished last in the Pegasus World Cup Turf: Next Shares. In his following start (back on Lasix) in the Grade 1 Frank E. Kilroe Mile Stakes, Next Shares finished third (beaten just a neck) to River Boyne. Both Next Shares and River Boyne return in the Shoemaker Mile and I prefer the former as a pace play who has plenty of back-class. If you rewatch the Kilroe Mile, Next Shares covered a lot more ground than River Boyne. With a similar effort, Next Shares could certainly turn the tables.

The other thing to like about Next Shares is that his trainer, Richard Baltas, has entered speedster Neptune’s Storm in the Shoemaker Mile. That horse, along with Voodoo Song, should ensure a very brisk pace up front — they’ll also be kept honest by Blitzkrieg and War of Will, both of whom usually race on or near the lead. All of that speed adds up to good news for Next Shares. He’s a Grade 1 winner who has always done his best running when he’s had some pace to run into. The other two keys for him (like all stalking or closing-type runners) is clear running room late, and hopefully he’ll get that with Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez taking the mount.

Lastly, we should take a look at True Valour. It’s hard to make much of an excuse for his flat finish in the Kilroe last out, but he’s truly performed better than what his results on paper might indicate. In the Thunder Road Stakes in February, he looked pretty keen early and it took him a few strides to settle down without throwing his head around and fighting his rider. Turning for home, it was clear that jockey Andrea Atzeni had plenty of horse under him but was just waiting for some running room. It ended up coming too late because River Boyne was in a better spot and had already taken command. True Valour did split horses nicely in the closing stages and was half a jump away from finishing second.

If you go back to the Breeders’ Cup Mile, True Valour had excuses there, too. He was up on heels early and he again took a little bit of time to settle down into a comfortable stride. Then, turning for him, he was just waiting for running room but instead got stuck behind a wall of horses. True Valour ended up steadying pretty badly and lost all chance at that point. I’m a little worried about how headstrong he tends to be early in races, but there’s a scenario here that could have at least two horses battling for the lead early and opening up some daylight on the rest of the field. That means he’ll be less likely to be running up on anyone’s heels and it also ensures that he’ll have a nice setup. Whether he can navigate clear passage late in the race is a separate matter.

Longshot Selections

#1 Without Parole

#3 Next Shares

#2 True Valour

Watch the Shoemaker Mile on Monday, May 25 from 6-8 p.m. ET on NBCSN, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

How to bet an exacta on a horse race

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Betting an exacta can present a challenge on several levels.

There is, of course, the primary need to analyze past performances and decide which horses are going to finish first and second.

Yet because of the inherently lower payoffs as opposed to what you’ll find in a Pick 3 or Pick 4, you’ll need to structure your wagers effectively in order to turn your selections into a profitable wager.

For starters, an exacta can be a simple wager. If you like two horses equally, you can just box them in the exacta and collect so long as they finish 1-2 in any order. If you like one of them a little more, you can then bet more on the one you prefer, say $10 on a 1-2 exacta and $5 on 2-1.

If you’re a little more uncertain, make sure you structure your bet around the size of the field and the probable payoffs.

If you like a longshot, the higher probable payoffs give you the cushion you need to wager on more combinations and still turn a nice profit.

But if you’re dealing with favorites or horses at relatively low odds, you have to wager more efficiently to preserve your profit.

In a field of six or less, you’re best to either focus on one horse or box two of them instead of boxing three or more horses because of the small payouts the bet will most likely generate.

In a field of seven, a wise strategy would be to box your top two choices and then, if you are worried about other horses, play them top and/or bottom other the other horses. For example, box 1-2, then bet 1-2 over 3-4 and 3-4 over 1-2. This way you are getting coverage on four horses without having to box them.

Once you get an eight-horse field, as long as there is not an overwhelming favorite, you can expand the number of horses you box since the payoffs will typically be higher, giving you a better opportunity to offset the inevitable array of losing tickets in a boxed wager.