By Jude “Pontiff of the Pick Four” Feld
This week, it seemed like every top handicapper I know was lauding the speed figures they use. These people are not just casual fans, but folks who make a living with Thoroughbred racing – turf writers, handicappers, owners, trainers and breeding farm executives.
Beyer aficionados, Brisnet followers, Equibase devotees and Ragozin sheets users – they all cited their favored speed figures as a reason they liked a particular horse or credited them for their success at the windows on Saturday at Keeneland.
All this discussion caused me to reflect on a couple of issues that often come up in handicapping discussions during forums at every level and on every medium. It also helped confirm to me that my assertions about those issues are correct.
Many people say handicapping at Keeneland is “impossible.”
Evidently this idea is nothing but a bunch of crap perpetuated by people who don’t know a good horse when it stares them in the face.
Two of the handicappers I know cashed winning late pick four tickets to the tune of $32,294.25 for 50-cents.
Another had the $3,715.30 late pick three for a buck.
Others managed to hit exactas and trifectas whose payoffs were excellent bankroll boosters.
The bottom line is these players did not consult tea leaves or flip playing cards to find the winning combinations, they used traditional handicapping methods and although the payoffs were not totally life-changing for any of them, they were considerably more than what was risked and will certainly allow them a nice Caribbean vacation should they opt to take one.
Keeneland’s Polytrack can be beaten by conventional handicapping – including speed figures. I have been doing it and saying it since 2006.
There is a speed figure pecking order – Some speed figures are better than others.
In his classic book Picking Winners, Andrew Beyer put the spotlight on speed figures. Handicappers were fascinated and some become as obsessed as he with the numbers. Ragozin and Thoro-Graph become hugely successful in the final 10 years of the last century and their refined numbers command a legion of followers. Brisnet and Equibase have both spent tons of money and countless hours developing their speed figures and also have their own devotees.
It is easier to convert a Muslim to a Jew or a Baptist to a Catholic than it is to get a “Rags” player to use an Equibase speed figure or a Brisnet purchaser to buy a Daily Racing Form to get the Beyer figures. It would be close to miraculous.
People will argue ferociously that the brand the use is, “the way, the truth and the light,” to cashing more pari-mutuel tickets and anyone who uses another type is doomed to eternal losing.
How can it be that they all show up at the same cashier’s line when their numbers are not aligned? How can Beyer, Brisnet, Equibase and sheets people all cash in on the same race?
It is because there is more to handicapping than that tiny bold-face number in the past performances. That is what makes handicapping so much fun – there are many ways to reach the same conclusion.
Trainer angles, horses for courses, pedigrees, distance switches, jockey changes, pace scenarios, trouble lines and weight shifts are just a few of the subtleties.
Speed figures have their place in that litany too.
No matter what the brand, they are an excellent way to compare entrants and narrow down the competition.
Nobody wants to bet on a horse that is too slow to win the race, but it is important to remember figures are just a guide. Some creativity of thought in regard to improvement or regression will pay dividends to the player. “Past performance is no guarantee of future success.”
And now there is Trakus – A figure for the rest of us.
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