Heartbeats & Hoofbeats: The Beyer Speed Figure
By Susan Johnson
One method of rating race horses that has been considered a reliable indicator of success is the Beyer Speed Figure. The minimum requirement is 100, and anything over that is preferred. Furthermore, as horses accumulate a racing history, they can improve this figure as they go along. Joe Cardello, writing in the Daily Racing Form, explained that the target goal is 108-110. This is the average winning Beyer Figure in recent Kentucky Derbies. Heres a brief recap since 1992:
War Emblem (2002) earned a 112 Beyer in the Illinois Derby, which he won in his final Derby prep.
Monarchos (2001) achieved 105 in the Florida Derby with a five-wide move around the turn, showing future potential.
Fusaichi Pegasus (2000) got 111 flying home in the Wood Memorial.
Charismatic (1999) earned 108 just before the Derby and repeated it at Louisville.
Real Quiet (1998) collected back-to-back Beyers of 107 and 108 before he won in Kentucky.
Silver Charm (1997) got two 110 figures in Derby preps.
Thunder Gulch (1995), like Monarchos, overcame a wide trip and other problems when he earned a pre-Derby 107, showing future capability.
Go For Gin (1994) achieved a 107 Beyer before the Derby.
The common denominator here is that all these recent Derby winners showed they could run in the 108-110 Beyer range. Since 1992, only three winners have not demonstrated that they could run a Derby-winning Beyer.
Grindstone (1997) was a surprise. Although he earned 100 with a rough trip and 102 winning under hand, his 112 victory figure at Churchill Downs caught the rest of the field off guard.
Sea Hero (1993), like a submarine lurking just beneath the surface, sank his competition by keeping a low profile. As a 2-year-old, he earned a 99 at one mile when he won the Champagne at Belmont Park. He had the ability to do better as he matured, but didnt really pull out the stops until the Derby.
Lil E. Tee (1992) was right on the edge, running 105 and 106 just before the Derby.
This years Derby had just a few likely candidates in the winning Beyer range: Funny Cide (110), Empire Maker (111) and Ten Most Wanted (110). However, Ten Most Wanted, perhaps because of traffic problems, never got to make his move and did not even run in the Preakness. Neither did Empire Maker live up to his promise, though his injured foot had healed fine, and he had no trouble getting through traffic. He ran within striking distance but, for whatever reason, just couldnt do it. His owner chose to skip the Preakness and save him for the Belmont.
Peace Rules, third in the Derby and a co-favorite in the Preakness, earned a Beyer of 105 before the Derby and came in third at Churchill Downs. His fourth-place finish in the Preakness probably seems more humiliating because of the length of the stretch between first and second place. On the other hand, a surprise late challenger, Midway Road, may have improved his standing by coming in for second. Before the Preakness, his best Beyer was 99. But, as the Daily Racing Form reported, Though untested beyond 1-1/16 miles, his pedigree suggests the additional furlong of the Preakness shouldnt be a problem. He was also the first Preakness starter to arrive at Pimlico, giving him plenty of time to get acclimated to the track. Also, trainer Neil Howard is noted for being careful for placing horses, especially those of stakes quality. For the record, Midway Road had never been more than 5-1/2 lengths behind at the first call in any race. As a longshot at 20-1, he offered a good payoff for place.
At the Belmont, look for Empire Maker and maybe a few more Derby also-rans to give it another try. But Funny Cide has proved one thing: he must now be taken seriously.
Maybe it all comes down to numbers. Barring bad luck and unforeseen circumstances, that is.