Commentary

Traps

Some bettors get enamored with speed figures but do so at their peril

Updated: May 20, 2013, 12:42 PM ET
By Jay Cronley | Special to ESPN.com

Three things suckered bettors at the Preakness.

1. Horses from the sticks: Horses with their best races at Houston and Sunland attracted a lot of cash in Baltimore.

Here's why Departing and Governor Charlie raced in those places: It was easy pickings. Fields there don't compare with New York or Florida or Arkansas. Beating seven horses in Houston and racking up a 97 Beyer speed number didn't translate well to the major leagues.

Kentucky Derby form almost always holds at the Preakness.

2. Trouble: Some trouble lines are overrated.

Going into the Preakness, you might have thought Will Take Charge had to be resuscitated after the Kentucky Derby. Hearing eye-witness accounts, you might have thought Will Take Charge was treated like a roller derby rookie and knocked into the crowd. Expert accounts had the horse needing smelling salts.

One report of Will Take Charge's trouble on the turn for home had the horse "completely stopped."

True, Verrazano ran in front of Take Charge. The horse was slowed, not stopped. Without the trouble, who is to say that Will Take Charge could have stayed anywhere near Orb down the long stretch?

In nine races, Will Take Charge has never been favored and has gone off at odds of more than 20-1 four times; just saying.

3. Speed figures: Oxbow's best Beyer going into Baltimore was a 95 from post position 10 at Oaklawn in a loss.

Get ready for this: No other horse at the Preakness had a lower top Beyer than Oxbow!

Titletown Five had a 99.

Speed figures are great handicapping aids, but numbers alone make lousy predictors. The last best Beyer number is going to be the favorite in most every race, another reason to look inside any figures.

It's obvious that numerous things boost and deflate a horse's rating number.

Here's what routinely inflates a speed figure: A short field, a simple race whereby a horse had it easy, an off track, a lack of competition.

Here's what oftentimes deflates a speed figure: A rotten post position, a sorry ride (as an example of that, add some points to Normandy Invasion's Derby experience), big fields.

Oxbow and Orb are examples of the ways post and pace can shape a number. After drawing these posts -- 10, 11, 10, 10, 10, and the dreaded 1 at the Kentucky Derby -- Oxbow gets a normal gate, runs to daylight, gets an uncontested lead and wins the race. Orb draws the rail at the Preakness and has to run his guts out late to get fourth.

Orb is only one-for-four after drawing the rail.

Stuff like this is almost as easy to find as a number, and is at least equally as important.