Do Speed Figures Matter in the Kentucky Derby?

For whatever reason, some people approach big race days like they would bowling on the moon. In other words, they throw out everything they know about horse racing and handicapping and, instead, prepare themselves for a completely new experience.

Take, for example, the notion that speed figures mean nothing in the Kentucky Derby.

Now, I know that a lot of bettors think speed figures are useless… but a lot of bettors are wrong. Yeah, it’s tough to make money relying primarily on speed figures, but that’s because everybody is aware of them (thanks, in large part, to Andrew Beyer’s entertaining books and the commercial speed ratings, including his own, that they spawned).

However, there is little doubt that speed figures are predictive. In fact, next to the morning line odds, they are probably the most predictive (well-known) single factor in the game.

Below is a comparison of horses with the lowest morning line odds vs. those with the highest last-race Brisnet speed figure:

SOLE MORNING LINE FAVORITE (entries not considered)

Number: 60,866
Winners: 20,277
Win Rate: 33.3%
$2 Net: $1.64

SOLE BEST LAST-RACE BRISNET SPEED FIGURE (ties not considered)

Number: 53,955
Winners: 15,801
Win Rate: 29.3%
$2 Net: $1.71

Note: Statistics derived from my database of nearly 70,000 races run at various tracks from 2012-2017.

As you can see, the numbers are startlingly similar (try saying that three times fast) and, in fact, one loses less playing the top speed figure horse.

What’s more, since Brisnet speed figures became available in 1992, the horse with the best last-race digits has worn the roses an incredible five times in 29 tries, with an ROI of 56.9 percent to win and 35.5 percent to place (not counting ties, the numbers stand at four wins in 21 tries with a 51.0 percent ROI to win and a 20.5 percent ROI to place).

BEST LAST-RACE BRISNET SPEED FIGURE IN THE KENTUCKY DERBY

Top-Speed-Figure-Kentucky-Derby

Note: ()= favorite. f= field. e= entry.

Here’s an even more shocking stat: Since 1992, only Mine That Bird has won the Derby after earning a last-race Brisnet speed figure of 95 or less.

LAST-RACE BRISNET SPEED FIGURE OF 95 OR LESS IN KENTUCKY DERBY

Number: 138
Winners: 1
Win Rate: 0.7%
$2 Net: $0.75

Still think speed figures don’t matter?

Editor’s Note: Brisnet speed figures have changed since they debuted in 1992. What’s listed in this article are the figures as they appeared at the time.

Derek Simon
Derek Simon is the Senior Editor and Handicapper at US Racing.
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