If You Don't Know Who Andrew Beyer Is, You Probably Don't Bet on Horses
From the Print Edition:
Demi Moore, Autumn 96
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"I'm a numbers guy, not a real visual type," Beyer says. "I have no skill at all judging the physical animal. I can't tell if a horse is feeling badly, or if he's ready to run the best race of his life, just by looking at him. My focus is on the fundamentals."
It is this disregard for all that is extraneous and irrelevant--Beyer, in fact, seldom refers to a horse by its name, only its racing number--that has made him a handicapping success.
When Andy Beyer was 12, his parents took him to a now defunct track called Randall Park, outside of Cleveland. Since that day, he has been captivated by handicapping horses. But not because he was intoxicated by the romance or beauty of the sport. His love was born, he says, of the "puzzle aspect" of picking winners. "I've always enjoyed games and puzzles. I went through a chess phase and a bridge phase and a long poker phase. I always liked games that had a mathematical component," Beyer says as he settles into the press box at Baltimore's Pimlico, home of The Preakness. "But I never had world-class ability at any of them. Even at that young age the gambling bug was germinating. Pinball, cards, whatever--I liked playing games. As soon as I had my first look at the Daily Racing Form, I was entranced."
In high school, Beyer dabbled in horse racing with an indulgent bookie, who took his one- and two-dollar bets. When he went on to Harvard, where he was supposed to be majoring in English literature, Beyer spent most of his class time playing the ponies at Suffolk Downs, getting an advanced degree in going broke. Instead of reading Homer and Shakespeare, he immersed himself in Herbert O. Yardley's classic, Education of a Poker Player, and financed his horse racing habit with all-night card games. "I was flying blind," Beyer recalls, making handicapping notes with a red magic marker. "There was little published literature on betting horses at the time. I decided that if I ever learned enough about horse racing I would try to become the Yardley of horses."
Beyer never did graduate. His final exam on Chaucer fell on the same date as the Belmont Stakes.
While working as a sportswriter--which subsidized his losses at the track--Beyer realized what he wanted to do most was write about racing. And learn to win. In 1970, both dreams started to come true when an editor at the Washington Daily News let him write a horse racing column--and he began experimenting with speed figures.
Previously, like so many desperate horse players, Beyer had stumbled down any number of blind alleys: a system that graded horses on their winning percentage versus number of times in the money; a system that charted the "Z" pattern in a horse's running line; a system that assigned power points based on a horse's pedigree. "All my handicapping was based on angles, not fundamentals. None of these angles ever addressed the key issue: Who is better than whom? The orthodoxy back then said that 'class' was the measure of a race," Beyer says, while making hieroglyphic notations in the margins of his race program. "For instance, if a $10,000 claimer was running against a slower $200,000 claimer, the assumption was that the slower but 'classier' horse would win. I was looking for a way to verify--or contradict--that assumption."
The concept of speed figures by no means originated with Beyer. A number of now-forgotten handicappers fooled around with them in the 1950s. But nobody had ever produced a reliable model that could be trusted over the long run, one that could tell you, for example, if one horse runs six furlongs in 1:11 and another runs seven furlongs in 1:24, which is a better time.
Beyer took a stack of old Daily Racing Forms and did the laborious math by hand, sifting through years of data, applying the analytical skills he had developed as a games-playing child. "'Six furlongs in 1:13 equals seven furlongs in 1:26 and a fifth' was my E=MC2," Beyer says, laughing. By 1972 he had managed to construct a reliable speed chart that incorporated the important element of track variance, a measure of track speed and bias, which was previously calculated by an antiquated--and, in most cases, inaccurate--system. Beyer devised a highly specific, sophisticated method for determining track variances, a method that accounted for the times turned in by different types of horses.
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