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Index of Terms

The method that we use to calculate the figures was developed by William Quirin around 1980, but the technique is solid and still valid today. Our figures are commonly known as "Quirin-style" figures. We calculate them via the same methods discussed in the many good handicapping books on the subject including those by William Quirin, Jim Quinn, and Tom Brohamer. There are two components of Quirin-style figures, namely a pace figure and a speed figure (final figure). This differs from other types of speed figures such as the Beyer figures that are calculated using only the final time of the race. We will discuss the comparison of Beyer vs. Quirin figures later in this article.

William Quirin applied innovative techniques to the art of thoroughbred handicapping. Through statistical analysis using computers he determined that horses at or around the $10,000 claiming level are approximately the same quality no matter which racetrack you compare-- from minor league tracks to major racing circuits. He established a class chart used in the production of the speed figures that assigned the $10,000 level a value of 100. 100 is the base value of the speed figure system. Horses at higher levels than the $10,000 claimer are assigned class ratings higher than 100 and horses at lower levels have ratings below 100. For instance, a $12,500 claiming race would be rated at one level higher than $10,000 which would make it a 101 on the class scale. Consequently, horses racing at that level would also be expected to earn slightly faster fractional and final times than the horses racing for $10,000. This class chart is more commonly referred to as a par chart, and will be covered in more detail later in this article. We have provided a listing of Northern California and Southern California class level charts.

What is a speed figure and why do we use them?
Most people familiar with basic handicapping principles are aware of the concept of speed figures. Speed figures were developed as quantitative measurements of how fast a horse ran in a specific race. A speed figure is a numeric rating of a horse's performance that is used to compare one horse to another when handicapping races. It is important to keep in mind that a speed figure is merely an estimation of a horse's "speed", and one that may or may not be repeated the next time around. However, the technique for calculating them can be highly refined and produce some very accurate estimations. In similar circumstances a horse is likely to repeat or exceed an individual speed figure, so we do believe that the figures give a reliable indication of how fast a horse may run today. The trick is determining when a horse may be relied upon to repeat a speed figure. Factors such as current form, movements up or down the class ladder, and track condition can all play a part in whether a horse has the ability to repeat a similar effort.

How the figures are calculated
To understand how the figures are calculated it is important to be familiar with the idea of a par chart. A par chart is a table of fractional times that a particular level of horse is expected to run for a specific distance at a particular track. We calculate our par charts for each track by analyzing a large sampling of races at each distance on both turf and dirt. We do not include some types of races in the sample. Cheap claiming races, maiden claiming races, and races restricted to 2-year-olds or 3-year-olds are usually excluded from the sample because they are often weak in quality and the slow times from a weak race can make it difficult to make an accurate par chart. The levels that provide the most accurate times to be used in creating a par chart are the mid-level claiming and allowance races for older males. If you are interested in calculating your own figures for a specific track and would like to purchase a par chart to help you get started, contact us and we can provide you with more information. We are always willing to provide free advice to handicappers who wish to make their own figures and are always interested in the methods and figures that others are using at various tracks.

One axiom that holds true is that higher quality horses run faster than lower quality horses. We know it doesn't sound like a revolutionary idea but it's important to understand it when grappling with the concept of pars. The par chart is based on the 100 level for $10,000 claimers, and each level up or down the class ladder is one point up or down from 100. The class ladder varies slightly according to the racing circuit, but for the racetracks that we evaluate the $20,000 level is 3 levels above $10,000 and would be assigned a class par of 103. The allowance levels vary from track to track, depending upon the comparable claiming level for that allowance level at that track. For instance, a first level allowance race at Golden Gate Fields is par level 103, which is equivalent to a $20,000 claiming race. At Hollywood Park the first level allowance is 105 which is equivalent to a claiming price of $32,000. We have verified these assumptions by averaging the internal fractions and final times of many races at these levels at each of these tracks. We provide a chart of class levels for Northern California and Southern California tracks. The allowance and higher priced claiming races are a higher level in So Cal than they are in No Cal. It is important to note that all of the class levels mentioned assume that the race is for male horses, ages 3 year old and older. Races for females and races restricted to younger horses are slower on average than those for males ages 3 and up, consequently some standard deductions are made from the older male par to arrive at the pars for females and younger horses.

A par chart lists out the expected fractional and final times that a certain level of horse is expected to run at each distance and surface at a particular track. For instance, our par for the 100 level going 6 furlongs at Golden Gate is 44.7 for the half-mile and 110.2 seconds for the final time. For the 103 level the par would be 44.4/109.6. Notice that the par times for the 103 level are faster than those at the 100 level. At the 1/2 mile in sprints the correllation is 1-1 for the amount of levels higher or lower than 100, thus the 103 level is 3 levels higher than 100 and should be .3 seconds faster to the 1/2 mile in a sprint.

Another concept that is integral to the calculation of our figures is the idea of a track variant. A track variant is a numeric rating of how fast or how slow a track was for each distance on a particular day of racing as compared to the track's par time for the distance. In the most basic sense, if there were 2 races at 6 furlongs on a particular day. One race was run in 45.7 110.8 seconds, the other in 45.1 111.6 seconds. Both races are level 100 and par for the level is 45.1 110.2 seconds.

Par Times for 100 Level 6 Furlong Dirt Sprint = 45.1   110.2

Actual Race Level
Actual 1/2-mile Fraction
Actual Final Time
Variance from Par Level (1/2-mile)
Variance from Par Level (Final Time)
Slow by 6 (-6)
Slow by 3 (-3)*
Equal Par (0)
Slow by 7 (-7)*

Average (Raw Daily Track Variant for dirt sprints)
Slow by 3 (-3)
Slow by 5 (-5)

*Remember, the final time variance is 2/10 second to 1 level variance unlike the pace call variance which is 1/10 second to 1 level.

The final time for the 6F race that is 110.8 when the expected par was 110.2 is only 3 levels slow, not 6 levels slow. At the pace call (½-mile) the variance is a .1 (1/10) to 1 level relationship so the race was 6 levels slow at the pace because the actual fraction was 45.7 when the par time was 45.1.

The daily track variant for dirt sprints in our sample calculated to Slow 3 at the half mile and Slow 5 at the final time. Since Race #1 above was actually slow 6 at the half mile and the daily sprint variant was only supposed to be Slow 3, the race came up 3 levels below par at the pace and thus earned a 97 pace figure (100 - 3 = 97). The final time of the race was only Slow 3 and the daily variant was Slow 5 so they were actually 2 levels better than par for the day. That race is assigned a 102 final figure (100 + 2 = 102). Even though the final time of the race was slower than par they were not as slow as the average sprint for that day and therefore earned a final figure better than par.

100 45.7 110.8 (97-102)
100 45.1 111.6 (103-98)

All of this assumes that no changes took place in the track surface throughout the entire race card. In our final calculations we sometimes have to adjust for significant changes to the speed of the track over the course of the day. Due to a change in the track surface over the course of the day, races can start out much slower on average at the beginning of the day and by the end of the day the races at the same distance are being run much faster (or vice versa).

Speed figure: A quantitative numeric measurement of how fast a horse can run.

Using Figures in Special Situations

Evaluating Maiden Claiming Races
Pace figures are usually more important than the final figures at the maiden claiming levels and claiming races below the mid-level of competition at a track. In the maiden races it is often because some horse has made one or two starts against tougher straight maiden fields and suddenly finds that the maiden claimers are a lot easier to handle. The straight maiden fields usually have a few horses that are very talented and are on their way to allowance or stakes races. A horse that is slightly below their talent level can show a pattern of setting or pressing a strong pace and then they will very often give way and finish way up the track from the winner because they lack the ability to press the intense pace and also produce a strong finish. A horse with that pattern may look terrible when considering only the final figure, but against easier competition they may be able to prominently place themselves on or just behind a more leisurely pace and then assert themselves in the final portion of the race.

The reason that the final figure is less important than the pace figure is that maiden claimers and low level claimers have less ability than higher quality horses and their pace figures are inextricably tied to their final figures in an inverse relationship. When the pace figure goes up the final figure usually drops, and when the pace figure goes down the final figure usually rises. Improving young horses and talented older horses at the stakes level can often show an increase at both the pace figure and final figure in conjunction. That situation is a positive one and can be used as an effective gauge of talent because you now have an animal that is running faster early and also finishing with more authority than they previously had shown. This situation will be especially noticeable on the Derby trail as the talented three year olds develop quickly and display rampantly rising pace and speed figures.


Evaluating 2nd-time Starters
Maidens making their second start are hard to quantify from figures earned in their only race. There is a world of trouble that a first-timer can encounter, and the second start is usually an improvement upon the first. It is highly possible that a second time starter may improve its figures by more than 5 lengths! The general rule of thumb that we use is trying to judge whether a horse had its best chance to run a race indicative of its talent level. If a first time starter set or pressed the pace and seemingly had an uneventful trip, the 5 length rule probably doesn't apply. If they broke poorly, dueled from the inside and squeezed back, went extremely wide on a turn, were trapped on the rail behind tiring horses, or seemingly didn't show any speed because of a tardy start, you may be able to count on significant improvement.

Basically, if the horse was able to "run its race" then we discount the improvement angle, but if we feel the horse had its best chance compromised by a bad break, racing inside of heavy traffic or just plain old inexperience then we usually allow the horse the benefit of the doubt. The flip side of the coin on allowing the horse the benefit of improvement is that it didn't run well because it simply has no natural ability. Don't get caught up in thinking that a horse that displays no bit of talent can suddenly improve enough to reach the winner's circle.

It's really a judgment call, but definitely demand that the horse show something positive from the race. The positive signal can be something minor--maybe a brief bid on a strong fraction around the turn before flattening out badly or simply gaining ground on the leader around the turn and showing a bit of fight in the stretch even when far back. It's highly unlikely that a horse that never showed any interest in its first race comes back to win its second start.

Evaluating Turf Routes
Pace figures earned on turf are often inflated when compared to dirt pace figures so beware of that if you are trying to take a pace figure that a horse earned on turf and predict a similar figure for the horse in a dirt race. The style of racing on turf is much different because the winner of a turf race is often determined by the strongest finisher in the final 3/8 of a mile. Dirt horses trying the turf are accustomed to an early pace that is more intense than that of a typical turf race. Consequently, when the dirt horse with a good dirt pace figure tries the turf and sets an early pace at the same intensity he uses on dirt, the pace figure assigned will usually be higher. The reason is that there are few turf routes per day to use in the calculation of a daily turf variant, and if you have one race where a very quick dirt horse set a fast pace in its turf race while the other turf routes had more leisurely paces, the figure on the quick pace will stand out more in the final variant that gets assigned.

Many horses trying turf for the first time will also show more speed over the turf course while pulling at the jockey or even being rank. The horse is not accustomed to the more relaxed turf pace. There is not as much dirt or debris hitting the faces of these horses on turf and the horse will often be much more eager to run freely on the turf. That's why many jockeys prefer to tuck their horse in behind other animals with horses to the outside so that they can get the horse to relax in the early part of the race. When the field sorts itself out around the far turn the jockey can "uncover" the horse by moving out of his crowded position and then ask it to run.

The bottom line is that you should be wary of using any figures from a turf effort to evaluate a dirt race. This is especially true with turf pace figures. Often a pace figure earned at a certain level of physical exertion on the turf corresponds to a lower pace figure on dirt from the same level of physical exertion.

Big Figures Earned on an Off Track
Always try to evaluate a horse based on figures earned in similar circumstances to today's race. In some instances that may not be possible but there is one particular instance when a pace or speed figure may not be trustworthy-- the figure earned on an off track. Horses often run way above their true talent level due to any number of factors, including a general liking of the wet surface, or the fact that the racing surface is often "sealed" in the very wet weather. A sealed track or a wet fast track can create a situation where the horses encounter very little resistance from the track surface while they are running. Consequently they are able to cover the early part of the race with less energy consumed and can often parlay that situation into a romping finish with a very high figure. This is a common occurence with the speed horses, and the chasers who generally would be able to catch the tiring leaders on a normal track now find themselves unable to make any impact on the frontrunner who seemingly has a ton of gas left in its tank. When the frontrunner encounters a regular fast dirt track in its next start, it may revert to its original form of having the early pace over a slightly more resistant track surface compromise its finish and the result is usually a lower final figure.

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