variants are values that are assigned to a particular
race or set of races on the same track and the same day to indicate how
much should be added or subtracted from the actual final time (for
speed) or incremental times (for pace) for comparison with times
achieved by other horses in other races. To calculate the
variant, the actual time of a race is compared to an expected normal
(par) time for a similar class of horses on the same track.
to talk about track variants. Variants have
achieved the status of religious mysteries in handicapping.
Everybody believes in themhardly anyone understands them. I
to talk about them, because if you understand them theyre
tedious. But if you dont, theyre holy. To get to
variants, Ill also need to talk about where the art of speed
handicapping is today, now that the Beyers are spoon-fed to the mob.
probably do a week at Club Med if I had $10 for every
time someone has buttonholed me at a seminar or Expo, or called on the
phone and opened the conversation with, Sohow do
seem to hate the answer Ive developed to avoid long,
unresolved debates: I just shrug and say, I dont.
Usually this does the trick and they shake their heads and walk off,
although once in a while it starts a one-sided harangue on why I should.
If I can get a word in, Ill ask, How do you make yours?
smoke and mirrors clear, the answer usually is they dontthey
use the Beyer Figures, which they have some idea contains a built-in
variant or, if they are making their own speed figures, they use the Daily
Racing Form variant, or some other variant based upon someone
elses work. All they know is they must
variants can be extremely valuableif they are local
and immediate. This almost has to mean:
if you make
them yourself as part of an alternative approach to speed or pace
handicapping, which you understand and master.
public odds are overwhelmingly based upon the published
Beyer Speed Figures, one way to find an edge is to have a strong set
of alternative speed figures of your own. So that you know Im
not hyping my own figures here, let me add that a good approach to
building strong, local, and immediate speed figures can be to simply make
your own Beyers.
work on a few tracks of your choice, you can make
better Beyers than The Beyersif for no other reason than the simple
fact that you must do research and you must understand them.
published Beyers are not bad speed figures, but the great value of
Beyers approach, when he first introduced it, was that it was
Beyers first book, Picking Winners, probably ranks
among the best How-To books of all time, regardless of topic.
set a whole generation of handicappers to work with pencils and
calculators, before PCs existed, to make their own Figs.
like now, there was great incentive to make alternative
figuresin this case using the new Beyer method.
offered an alternative to the DRF speed figures and variants, which
were not held in much esteem.
have to run exhaustive statistical tests to
conclude that the published Beyers appear to be far
their predecessorsjust observe that the odds on speed have noticeably
dropped. Unfortunately, improved information is not the value
bettors friend, and when you make your own figures, the last thing you
want are better published figures.
the most naive quotes Ive seen on this subject from
an executive in the racing industry was recounted in Thoroughbred
Times, about a year ago. Essentially, he wanted to
simpler and more widely understandable information to the public so
that there would be more winners.
Aside from whether replacing data columns with
baby talk would actually accomplish that goal or notthis is a
pari-mutuel, zero-sum sport. To have more winners
has to either win less (smaller amounts)or somebody has to lose
more. (I seriously doubt he was suggesting that the tracks
the mutual pools.) However, from the slightly cynical angle
below, the evolving flood of superficial information is starting to
look a lot better.
the information available to the crowd can
occasionally be almost as important to finding an edge as handicapping
the horses themselves. Have you ever handicapped a race and
exposed Trixies Notion as the false favoriteand understood exactly
who the true contenders wereand then picked up the Form
found a banner headline, Trixies Notion Takes On The
At Belmont? Dont you wish you could get a headline
that every time you nail a race?
mentioned in one of the earlier columns about odds, the
crowd piling on a false favorite is one of the surest ways to a
legitimate overlay. A few days ago (September 16th) TVGs
commentator spoke prophetic words before a Grade II event: Youve
got to go with the only Grade I winner in the race.
been meaning to send her a Thank You note. The underlying
prophecy was that the false favorite Grade I winner would be pounded by
the public, and the real winner would pay $45+.
you dont get headlines or televised
commentary on your money race every day, but what you do get at some
tracks, at least, are those wonderful little At A Glance, or Closer
Look comments, and other additions to information to help simplify
the crowds selections.
these comments simply recount what is already there,
in the more cryptic speed lineswhich presumably they feel the public
cant read. For example: Wasnt seen after a layoff
May, then returned to do poorly.
kidding? Now, theres some hot information.
The guys writing these comments have to say something about a hundred
or more horses a day, with some relevance to the race at hand, so you
cant blame them for being a little jaded. But when one of
overworked fellows slips up and states an actual opinionwhich differs
from yoursthe last thing to do is be worried by it, or fold.
Instead, try looking for value.
handicapper, you may be skimming thirty or forty races a
day looking for opportunities. Bad public information can
sometimes be a clue that interests me enough to work a race I might not
otherwise, and hang with it until the final moments to see how the odds
are going to be affected.
bad public information involves speed or times, then
the advantage of making your own alternative speed (or pace) figures
really steps out. Over the next several weeks, well cover
several of these topics as we sneak up on variants.