When it comes to the 142nd running of the Kentucky Derby, this year’s field has a major case of the slows.
That’s if you go by the Beyer Speed Figures, the calculations put forth by the writer, longtime horse player and numbers savant Andrew Beyer published by the Daily Racing Form. Beyer’s numbers aren’t based solely on how fast a horse runs in a race. They also incorporate how fast a track is playing that particular day by comparing performances and times under the same conditions.
Some people swear by the Beyer Speed Figures. Some believe they are nothing but empty numbers.
“I think speed figures have become one of the biggest jokes in horse racing,” Dale Romans, trainer for Blue Grass Stakes winner Brody’s Cause, said Wednesday.
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Useful or useless, the Beyers provide one way to compare horses. And if you go by those numbers, this year’s Derby field is not exactly a distinguished crop.
I think speed figures have become one of the biggest jokes in horse racing.
Trainer Dale Romans
In nearly every Kentucky Derby prep race, last year’s winning Beyer figure beat this year’s Beyer figure. American Pharoah ran a 105 to win last year’s Arkansas Derby; Creator a 96 this year. Dortmound ran a 106 to win last year’s Santa Anita Derby; Exaggerator a 103 this year. Carpe Diem ran a 102 to win last year’s Blue Grass Stakes; Brody’s Cause a 91 this year. Frosted ran a 103 to win last year’s Wood Memorial; Outwork a 93 this year. And so on.
This year, the winners of 14 Kentucky Derby preps averaged a 93.4 Beyer. Last year, the winners of those same 14 preps averaged a 98.1.
“A lot of the races (this year) were run on off tracks, so that might take away from it a little bit,” said Bob Baffert, who trained American Pharoah and Dortmund last year and has Mor Spirit this year. “Last year, American Pharoah, he was exceptional. It’s not fair to compare horses.”
It wasn’t just Pharoah. Eight horses in last year’s Kentucky Derby field had run a Beyer figure of 100 or better. This year, there are four — Exaggerator’s 103 in the Santa Anita Derby, Nyquist’s 101 in the San Vincente, Danzing Candy’s 100 in the San Felipe and Destin’s 100 in the Tampa Bay Derby.
“There’s different ways to look at that, I think,” said trainer Chad Brown, who has Shagaf and My Man Sam in this year’s race. “Some of these horses are a little lightly raced and they’re improving. So their best speed figures are yet to come. I don’t look too much at that.”
Some of these horses are a little lightly raced and they’re improving. So their best speed figures are yet to come.
Trainer Chad Brown
What does this mean for those of us planning on visiting the betting window Saturday?
Since the figures began being published in 1991, seven Kentucky Derby winners had the best Beyer among all Derby entrants in their last-outs, i.e. final Derby prep. (This year that would be Exaggerator.)
All but two winners — Animal Kingdom in 2011 and Mine That Bird in 2009 — had run at least a 95 Beyer figure before the Derby. This year’s entries yet to earn a 95: Gun Runner, Suddenbreakingnews, Whitmore, Oscar Nominated, Shagaf, Tom’s Ready, Majesto, Trojan Nation, Mo Tom and, yes, the Romans-trained Brody’s Cause.
“It just depends on which ones you look at,” Romans said. “When you go through all of them, Ragozin or Beyer … you’ll find one of them that you like. I mean, I saw my horse loop 13 horses and gallop under the wire with his ears pricked. I don’t need somebody doing a mathematical formula telling me he ran well.”
These figures may also be part of the reason — pedigree being another — undefeated Nyquist probably won’t be a prohibitive favorite Saturday. Last time out, Nyquist posted a 94 Beyer figure to win the Florida Derby. Materiality posted a 110 when he won the same race last year.
On the other hand, Nyquist has nearly as many Grade I wins (four) as the rest of the field combined (six). And to win this year’s Kentucky Derby, you don’t have to be the fastest horse in the history of the race.
You just have to be the fastest horse in the race on Saturday.
Comparing Kentucky Derby prep races
Santa Anita Derby
Tampa Bay Derby
Fountain of Youth
Robert B. Lewis
2016 Kentucky Derby field
Julie Gilbert and Aaron Sones
Samuel F. Henderson
Donnie Von Hemel
Ricardo Santana Jr.
G M B Racing
Winchell Thoroughbreds LLC/Three Chimneys
My Man Sam
Sheep Pond Partners
Irad Ortiz Jr.
Twin Creeks/Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners
Robert LaPenta/Harry Rosenblum/Southern Springs
Big Chief/Head of Plains/Rocker O Ranch
G M B Racing
Brian Hernandez Jr.
Michael Lund Petersen
Grupo 7C Racing Stable
Albaugh Family Stable
Halo Farms/Jim and Dianne Bashor
McCormick Racing/Southern Equine
William Pacella, Frank L. Jones Jr. and Frank Shoop
Note: No. 21 Laoban and No. 22 Cherry Wine are “also eligible” horses who get into the Derby only if another horse scratches before 9 a.m. Friday. Laoban would get in first, then Cherry Wine if a second horse scratches.
142nd Kentucky Derby
Post time: 6:34 p.m.