What are speed figures in horse racing?

Speed figures are numbers intended to simplify the handicapping process by reducing a horse’s previous races to a single figure that represents that effort. The most famous speed figures are known as Beyer numbers, after Andrew Beyer, the Washington Post racing columnist who developed them and published them in the Daily Racing Form since the early 1990s.

Under Beyer’s scheme, the higher the number the better. Stakes race caliber horses routinely run triple figure numbers. The highest speed figures ever awarded were 133 and 132 given to Groovy, the 1987 champion sprinter, for his back-to-back victories in the Roseben and True North Handicaps that year.

Numerous competitors that are similar to Beyer’s figures have emerged in recent years, including figures produced by Brisnet, Equibase, TimeformUS and TrackMaster.

A different type of speed figure was developed in the 1970s by Len Ragozin. Known as the Ragozin Sheets, they more closely resemble graphs that follow horses through their entire racing careers. In the Ragozin world, the lower the number the better, but the format is also intended to help players project what number a horse will run in today’s race based on what’s known as its “form cycle.”

The Ragozin sheets also have spurred several competitors, including Thoro-Graph, who use a similar approach. Which one is best? No one can say with any empirical proof. It’s mainly a matter of which one you’re comfortable with.

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