Speed Figures for Handicapping

When it comes to finding a winner in a race, there are a number of important factors to consider. However, it could be argued that the most essential factor that must be taken into account is the speed of the horse. Of course, it will make for imperative reading, but which tips should gamblers follow when trying to use the speed figures?


See also our guide on Pace Handicapping.

What Are Speed Figures?

Speed figures have been an important part of horse racing since they were introduced in the 1970s. They were introduced by a Washington Post journalist called Andrew Beyer. He believed that gamblers would have a better chance of finding a winner if they could see the times that horses have won previous races at.


In essence, speed figures when it comes to handicapping takes into account the time that a particular horse has won at while also comparing the track and what bias could have been at play. We will discuss the factors that could be at play when using speed figures later in the article.

Why Are Speed Figures Important?

Speed figures have become essential reading before making a bet on any race in the United States. The main reason for this is down to the fact that it helps to find the quickest horse in the race. As we all know, the quickest horse has the best chance of winning. Most importantly, it takes into account the surface on the day, which means it looks far past just the time that the horse won at.


Handicapping is essential, as it looks into whether the surface was a lively one or a slower one. Speed figures cut a lot of the hard work out for gamblers, as it means that they don’t need to break down every single race and look at the variables that could have played a role in why a certain horse won.

An Example Of Speed Figures For Handicapping

To get a greater level of understanding of how speed figures work for handicapping, it is easier to use an example. Below you will see the times of two winners that were running in the same race class, but with one important difference- the track that they were running at:


  • Yes Bay (1:09.60)

  • War Bridle (1:10.42)


As you can see from the example above, Yes Bay finished at a quicker time over their six-furlong distance. However, the race at Emerald Downs, which is a faster track than most. Meanwhile, War Bridle completing his six furlongs at a slightly slower time at Fair Grounds. The speed figures would show that War Bridle is a quicker horse than Yes Bay, as he completed the race on a slower surface.

How Are Speed Figures Determined?

Speed figures are mainly worked out by the course that the horses are running at. Tracks, such as Emerald Downs used in the example, typically play fast, which means that quicker times are almost guaranteed. The location of the track in the country plays a significant role on this, as the weather and racing environments will have a direct impact on the time.


Many novices will believe that because the races are run on the same surface, the outright time is the most important. However, the speed figures take into account the tangible factors that must also be considered. When it comes to speed figures, you can use the following scale as a general rule:


  • 115+ - Grade 1 and best horses

  • 100 – Low graded quality or good allowance

  • 90 – $25,000 claiming races

  • 80 - $10,000 claiming races

  • 57 – Lesser track claiming races

Negatives Of Speed Figures

Speed figures are undoubtedly an important factor to consider before placing a bet, but there are also more factors that should be assessed. The figures shouldn’t be taken as gospel, and just because a horse has a better rating doesn’t necessarily mean that it will win the race. Instead, all the other pieces of research should be done to create a full picture of how the race could unfold.


There are a number of shortcomings with the speed figures too, as the figures don’t take into account the trip. For example, a horse may be given a higher rating after running clear of the field. Meanwhile, a horse could be given a lower figure despite having been in a more competitive race. Understanding the trip is essential before using the speed figures handicapping.


Finally, speed figures for different terrains are by no means as reliable as the dirt. The speed figures for turf and grass are not as realistic, and there is a good reason for this. Horses will use their speed in the closing stages of the race, which is the opposite from on the dirt, where horses start faster. That is an important piece of information to bear in mind before betting on the different surfaces.


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