Commentary

Beyer beware

Updated: December 3, 2012, 8:34 PM ET
By Jay Cronley | Special to ESPN.com

I said goodbye to another one recently.

And a sad occasion it was.

So long old friend, been nice, rest comfortably, cheers, prayers and sweet dreams.

This friend had cashed in his small credit balance on his online wagering account and had given up horse race betting and was moving on to casino action, slot machines, chiefly. Visions of free drinks and bells that signify winning slot spools danced in his head.

He had been a horse player for many dozens of years.

He was quitting because picking a winner was too hard.

What had sent him packing was the usual, a favorite with a Beyer number easily superior to anything else in the race dilly-dallying in the gate and losing to speed that had never displayed quickness before, a former plug that flew from the gate as though reborn with new vim and vigor. This person quitting the horse handicapping game had put the animal with the highest Beyer number in most every kind of bet he could think of, and afford. And seeing so many hours worth of hard work, and so much honest money, lost to something that made no sense whatsoever, it was like he had been hustled.

Baseball pitchers with 90-mile per hour arms don't suddenly throw 100 for nine innings. Fullbacks don't suddenly start outrunning defensive backs. NBA centers with Acme bricks for hands don't make ten three-pointers one night.

Yet in horse racing, the unforeseeable is a routine occurrence.

It's why betting lucky numbers is no sign of weakness.

It's why you shouldn't bet much on cheap races.

The man giving up trying to pick horses said that he was tired of thinking so much and was looking forward to having to deal only with the depression that frequently followed gambling losses. He loved the thrill of a wager, the possibility of winning big. He could almost afford what he had been losing recently. It was the inexplicable results that had worn him down. Losing at slots while transfixed in a mindless state was completely understandable; losing to a horse that hadn't shown much more than a trot was not.

It seems like oddball winners, and downcast losing handicappers, are showing up more now than used to be the case.

This could be why: an over-reliance on Beyer numbers.

Whereas a Beyer number is regarded by some as the ultimate predictor, oftentimes all it does is restate the obvious. Most could guess what would be a big Beyer based on a race result and time.

Sometimes Beyer numbers are inflated. A horse that beats only four others and wins by ten and puts up a 98 Beyer is often a worse play than a horse that ran a 90 in a tougher field of a dozen.

Lower Beyer numbers are particularly beautiful to behold when they accompany winning efforts. Blaming a horse for winning can prove expensive.

The key is to predict a big Beyer number, not try to sponge off one.

Write to Jay at jaycronley@yahoo.com.