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Horse Racing Section

  Andrew Beyer on the Belmont Stakes

Andrew Beyer
Andrew Beyer, The Post's horse racing columnist since 1978 and one of the country's leading experts on racetrack betting and the author of four books on the subject, was online on June 1 to discuss the Belmont Stakes as well as the state of the horse racing industry. The transcript follows.

Pittsburgh, Pa.: In a Daily Racing Form column last week, Wayne Lukas criticized you for disbelieving your own figures in picking against Charasmatic. I assume that's because Charasmatic's Triple Crown races are some of the slowest this decade. Your response?

Andrew Beyer: I didn't disbelieve Charismatic's last figure, earned in the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland, which was as good as any horse in the race. But in the Derby, a horse's overall record is as important a consideration as his last race, and Charismatic's career history didn't exactly fit the classic profile of a Derby winner. Lukas now talks as if he loved Charismatic while everybody else disrespected him, but in fact he thought Cat Thief was his best hope for the Derby.

Hunt Valley, Md.: Andy, we often hear of 3 year olds who are "short" for the Kentucky Derby because they didn't race as 2 year olds, or didn't race enough at 2, or weren't fast enough at 2.

When does the stigma of this wear off typically? Belmont? Travers? Example: Patience Game could be a contender in the Belmont with a move forward, but he's quite lightly raced - granted...often a misnomer for "not fast enough."

Andrew Beyer: The lessons of history say that a horse has to have a 2-year-old foundation in order to win the Derby. In the Preakness and Belmont, horses have an edge in fitness if they have competed in the earlier legs of the Triple Crown series. The late blooms usually get rolling in mid-summer for races like the Haskell and the Travers. I can't see Patience Game in the Belmont. He was just picking up the pieces when the speed died in the Preakness.

Columbus, Ohio: The failures of the Godolphin horses this Spring were obvious to any observer, and well documented in your column of May 29 [Read the column]. But the Belmont is a different sort of race. Do you think Godolphin, Worldly Manner in particular, might have enjoyed success in the Belmont?

Andrew Beyer: Not after getting beaten by 30+ lengths in the Preakness. But if Worldly Manner had been given traditional management as a 3 year old, he might have been a Belmont horse. We'll never know.

Baltimore Md.: Do you think Menifee will be favored in the Belmont even though he has been beaten by Charismatic twice? I am interested in the Satellite wagering system you recently wrote about. Is it available in Maryland?

Andrew Beyer: I think Charismatic has now had enough hype that he'll be the favorite. Bettors trying to beat him may be more inclined to go for the filly Silverbulletday.

The satellite dish I wrote about recently is available everywhere from The Racing Network. [Read the column] It brings the live race cards from Pimlico and more than 20 other tracks.

Boca Raton, Fla.: Best of Luck made a long sweeping move in the Wood, reminiscent of Pleasant Colony in the Kentucky Derby & Preakness. I thought his Peter Pan win was impressive, but after reading your column today, you feel that type of horse doesn't win Belmont's. Does he have a shot and if not, who does?

Andrew Beyer: I think he's got a shot. He's more of a plodding late runner than a horse who makes the big mid-race move a la Pleasant Colony. But this Belmont field appears to be devoid of speed, and that might hinder a horse who comes from too far behind.
This is an unimaginative conclusion, perhaps, but I think the Belmont is going to come down to Charismatic vs. Menifee, again. They're probably the two best horses and they both seem pretty well suited to 1½ miles.

Burke, Va.: Every time that I go to Rosecroft during the week to watch some simulcasting, it seems like there are never any patrons.
What kind of numbers are Rosecroft and other simulcasting sites doing?

Andrew Beyer: It may not look this way, but thoroughbred simulcasting is helping a lot of harness tracks survive. Even when the crowds are moderate, racetracks love simulcasting, because there is relatively little overhead involved. When a track is running live races, they've got to pay purses, maintain the track, etc...

Somerset, N.J.: What horses do you think have a shot in the Belmont. And, what Beyer figure does it usually take to win the third jewel.

Andrew Beyer: The average winning Beyer Speed Figure in the Triple Crown races is around 110, so the current crop is just a bit sub-par. Charismatic (108), Menifee (108) Silverbulletday (109) and Best of Luck (107) are all right in the ballpark.

Baltimore Md.: Are you familiar with Kelso Stuergon's TCN handicapping method of assigning numerical values to each horse? If you are, what is your opinion of his methods? I am a great believer in your speed figures and have read all your books so your opinion has great value to me.

Andrew Beyer: Sorry, I don't know anything about the method you mention.

Miami, Fla.: Are there tracks where you have done terrific, and are there some where you have had no success?

Andrew Beyer: Over the years, I've done my best in the mid-winter racing in Florida, at Gulfstream and (in its heyday) Hialeah. Speed figures have always been useful there, in comparing horses shipping in from different parts of the country. I'm pretty well attuned to the nature of the racing strips and the trainers, and I love being down there so much that I've always got a good mental attitude when I play Gulfstream.
By contrast, California racing has generally befuddled me. There are enough subtle differences between racing in the West and the East--the great emphasis on speed and pace, the importance of workouts as a handicapping factor--that I've rarely gotten a good handle on the California tracks. Nevertheless, I'm a glutton for punishment and I'm taking another crack at Del mar this summer.

Washington, D.C. : When playing the horses this time around, I came across this dosage index issue. How safe is it to rely on this? Apparently Menifee was not supposed to be able to run a mile and a quarter in the Derby, according to the index. It sure seemed to run well to me. Is there a particular dosage index rating or level that I should look for in a Triple Crown horse? Or is this just another inaccurate measure helping me throw my money away?

Andrew Beyer: In my opinion, Dosage is useless as a handicapping tool. Its proponents claim that it had been right about the Derby every year from 1929 into the 1990s, but the system was devised in the 1980s and the retrofitted to the past results. When Dosage is correct, it tells you what you would know anyway from a common-sense analysis of a horse's pedigree. But when it defies common sense it's usually wrong--as when it said that Strike the Gold (who seemed to have a solid distance running pedigree) didn't qualify for the Derby. I could go on and on about this subject; suffice it to say that Dosage is junk science.

Bethesda, Md. via Dhahran, Saudi Arabia: I just finished reading your book "Picking Winners," and I was wondering whether handicapping has changed significantly to supercede that publication, specifically whether the daily printing of Beyer Figures has made speed handicapping a lost art?

Andrew Beyer: I think that making figures is indeed becoming a lost art. Even if a handicapper can calculate figures as accurate as the ones we do for the Racing Form, it's probably not worth devoting so much time to make figures when they're now readily available in print. I think a horseplayer could use his time more profitably by studying films of races, etc.

Plano, Texas: Will the trifecta box at the Belmont be Patient Game, Charismatic to Minifee.

Andrew Beyer: No Patience Game for me. I think the other 2 will be in the tri.

Saratoga Springs NY: What is your assessment of the impact of the NTRA on the racing industry.

Andrew Beyer: The jury is still out. As a horseplayer, I'm still waiting for the NTRA to do something that improves the day-to-day product that bettors see. I'd like to see them get the tracks to coordinate their post times for the simulcast market, or to get all tracks to adopt the same color-coded saddlecloths. Like everybody who loves the game, I'm rooting for the NTRA to succeed, but I'm growing a bit dubious about its prospects.

Florence, Ky: We often read in the form about how the trainer of a particular horse likes their chances in an upcoming race, the horse is feeling good, training well, etc., etc.
Of course, we never hear that they don't like their chances, or the horse is not training well. I find that these published comments typically taint my assessment of a race, so I try to avoid reading them altogether.
What do you do with trainer comments? Do you ignore them completely?

Andrew Beyer: You're right that trainers always say their horses are doing good; always say that they liked a workout. As a journalist I've got to write this stuff, but as a handicapper I don't put much stock in it.

Washington, D.C. : What are your thoughts on Stephen Got Even? At 12 or 15-1 right now, it doesn't seem such a bad bet. Can we attribute its poor showing in the Derby to just traffic problems? And was the Preakness the true horse that came through?

Andrew Beyer: I wrote a column before the Preakness stating that I loathed Stephen Got Even; he didn't have any consequential trouble in the Derby. In fact, he had an easy trip. He was one of the many horses who rallied in the Preakness after the speed horses had collapsed, so I wasn't impressed by that race, either.

Lexington, Ky.: Do you think there is a negative bias towards horse racing on the part of the mainstream sports media?

Andrew Beyer: I don't think I'd say there's an anti-racing bias. Racing hasn't kept pace with the growing popularity of other sports, and it doesn't merit the percentage of space in sports sections that it used to get. Many younger sports journalists are so focused on the mainstream sports that they never go to the races.

New York, NY: I think most people will bet the Belmont as a two or three horse race -Charismatic, Menifee, and Silverbulletday if you believe it has a chance-. My question: Does the distance of the Belmont, though, make it a little more wide open despite the lack of truly great horses in the rest of the field?

Andrew Beyer: The distance of the Belmont is always an X factor; it's conceivable that if the favorites don't want to go 1 1/2 miles somebody could upset them. But I think that both Charismatic and Menifee are going to be effective at the distance.

Kentucky: How much are you putting on Charismatic? Are we looking at a triple crown winner?

Andrew Beyer: I think this race is a very close call between Charismatic and Menifee. Given that neither of them is likely to go off at attractive odds, I can't consider the Belmont a good betting proposition.

Englewood, NJ: Is post position much of a factor in the Belmont or does the distance make it less significant?

Andrew Beyer: Usually it's not a factor.

Bethesda, Md: I read recently where the Post sports editor made you pay for freebie seats that you received at the track. Do you believe that receiving such freebies is a conflict of interest? And, isn't horse writers betting on races the same as investors on Wall Street dealing with insider information? Where are the ethical restraints with horse writers?

Andrew Beyer: I'm very sensitive to the ethics of writing and betting on the races simultaneously, but there is not a parallel with the stock market. A Wall Street writer can affect events; if he owns a stock, and writes favorably about it, he can benefit himself. If I write about a horse I like, I can't help his chances (and, at the same time) I might hurt my odds. If I am writing a column about a race on which I have won or lost money, I'll usually mention it ("As I was tearing up my tickets...") but I like to think that I can look at races in a clear-eyed fashion whether I have won or lost.

Washington, DC: Who would you say is the best horse of the 90s?

Andrew Beyer: This is a minority opinion, but I'd pick Formal Gold. His speed figures were better than those of Cigar, Holy Bull, Skip Away and other champions. If he hadn't been hurt before the Breeders' Cup, he would have buried Skip Away and would have won the horse of the year title that he deserved.

Columbus, Ohio: You seem to be lukewarm to Silverbulletday's chances to win the Belmont. Is this true? Could you please give a few detailed thoughts about her?

Andrew Beyer: I would have liked Silverbulletday in the Derby, because she'd got that powerful acceleration on the turn than wins the Derby so often. I'm not sure that here style is as well suited to the Belmont. From the standpoint of speed figures, she's been earning numbers comparable to Charismatic, but earning them in a much easier fashion. She got a 109 while running with the aid of a rail-favoring bias at Pimlico; Charismatic got a 107 running four-wide, against the bias. His was a much better effort.

Washington, D.C.: Andy, any new books in the works?

If Charismatic does it, will it energize the sport, or will the attitude be "what a pathetic year when a horse like this wins the Triple Crown"?

Andrew Beyer: I don't think it will energize the sport, because Charismatic's background as an ex-claimer defeats any efforts to portray him as a great horse. The achievement of winning the Triple Crown would be somewhat diminished if he does it.
No new books in the works.

Bowie, Md.: Despite the speed figures many fillies bring to the Triple Crown events, they never show well. Does the filly Silverbulletday have the speed to overcome the "mental" problems of running with the boys?

Andrew Beyer: I don't think there are any "mental" problems involved with fillies in the Triple Crown races. Three Rings lost the Derby because she wasn't good enough – she'd beaten weak fields with easy trips; Excellent Meeting had a brutal trip at Churchill Downs. If Silverbulletday should lose the Belmont, I don't think gender will have anything to do with it.

Sunnyvale, Ca.: And the winner of the Belmont Stakes is?

Andrew Beyer: Friday's Post. I'm still pondering.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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