Ten Questions for Andrew Beyer
Andrew Beyer has been covering horse racing since the early 1970s and the racing columnist for The Washington Post since 1978. His Beyer Speed Figures, now an industry norm, revolutionized handicapping. Across his career, he has been one of the most opinionated, incisive, illuminating — and polarizing — voices in the sport. He does not have a great record picking winners in the Kentucky Derby, but no one can say he doesn’t weigh in with authority and back his words at the window. He is one of the great figures in the game, loves to play it with a passion and belongs in the National Racing Hall of Fame. I caught up with him Wednesday afternoon before the draw and pitched him 10 questions.
John Scheinman: Bodemeister, from a standpoint of Beyer Speed Figures, is clearly the class of this field, but the last time a horse won the Derby without racing as a 2-year-old was in the 1800s. Do we advise bettors to just take the plunge?
Bodemeister (Eclipse Sportswire)
Andrew Beyer: I have believed in all of these historical standards that say you have to have plenty of seasoning to win the Derby, but they keep getting disproved. After talking to Baffert for my column and hearing he worked Bodemeister 26 times before he started, I think the way Baffert trains, this horse probably has as much seasoning as these other horses in the field. Given those big figures, I wouldn’t throw him out on the 2-year-old angle.
Scheinman: I remember you picked Bellamy Road in 2005, the year he won the Wood Memorial by 17 1/2 lengths, and my thinking was that I didn’t trust his breeding to get the job done. Giacomo won at 50-1. Bodemeister, being by Empire Maker out of a Storm Cat mare, has the bloodlines for success. Does pedigree factor at all into your Derby selections ever?
Beyer: Yes, but less so than it used to. It used to be really important that horses had breeding for a mile and a quarter. Now, we’ve seen horses like Smarty Jones and Funny Cide, who had iffy sires. It doesn’t seem to matter as much, and I think it’s because there so little distance breeding around anymore that it just hasn’t been as much of a factor. It does remain a huge factor in the Belmont Stakes.
Scheinman: Where did the strongest horses in this race come from this year? Bodemeister and Secret Circle left California and tore Arkansas apart. I’ve been very impressed by Creative Cause and I’ll Have Another. Is that batch as good as I think?
Beyer: I thought they were through much of the winter, but the low figure for the Santa Anita Derby made me reconsider that opinion. I think the strongest horses were scattered.
Scheinman: Gemologist is undefeated and looks gorgeous out on the track here. My gut tells me he gets none of this and that his effort in the Wood was pedestrian. What do you see in this horse, and, for that matter, Alpha?
Beyer: By the standards of 2012, I guess the Wood was about as good as any prep race except Bodemeister in the Arkansas Derby. By historical standards, a Beyer Speed Figure of 98 is pretty terrible. I thought they both ran OK. Gemologist was wide on both turns. Alpha had a little trouble, although I think it was exaggerated by a lot of people. I wouldn’t fall off my chair if they won, but I wouldn’t want to take relatively short prices on either of them.
Scheinman: You wrote a column criticizing the handling of Trinniberg this week. Has there ever been a sprinter you became enamored of heading into the Derby? I remember in my formative days being absolutely crazy about a horse named Groovy, who ran in 1986. He finished 16th and I learned something about racing.
Trinniberg (Eclipse Sportswire)
Beyer: No. When I started out in the game, there was such an emphasis on mile-and-a-quarter pedigree and ability, you would even look askance at horses that won at a mile and an eighth and wonder if they would get the extra furlong, and often they didn’t. I would never consider a seven-furlong horse in the Derby.
Scheinman: What has stood out for you about this year’s 3-year-old crop? For me, it’s that they are extremely well matched and some of them actually seem good. We’ve had a couple down years, and I like this batch.
Beyer: That goes to show that you’re not a figure guy. My opinion of this crop was before Bodemeister’s explosion in the Arkansas Derby, I couldn’t believe this generation was actually worse than last year’s crop, which was the worst 3-year-old crop in my lifetime. Horses would run in the 105 to 110 figure range in their prep races to point them out as Derby contenders. War Emblem ran a 112 in the Illinois Derby just a few years ago and still went off at 20-1. The horses that are the leaders of their generation, Hansen and Union Rags and Alpha are running in the mid-90s. It couldn’t get worse than that. If you went back to the Joe Hirsch era and didn’t have speed figures, you’d say what a consistent crop, but when you’ve got figures, you’ve got an objective measurement. Not that I believe they tell you everything. I respect horses who are consistent and gutsy and everything else, but I want to see them run a number one time.
Scheinman: You really liked Hansen in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last year, and it was a tremendous selection. With how much interest have you followed his exploits this year, and do you give him a strong chance to win the Derby?
Hansen (Eclipse Sportswire)
Beyer: He was the speed of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. His pace figure in that prep race at Turfway was off the charts. It looked like a good upset possibility, but I cannot see Hansen finishing in the top 10 in this race. Even under the best of circumstances, you have to doubt whether he’s a mile-and-a-quarter horse, or even a mile-and-an-eighth horse. In this Derby field, where you’re going to have Trinniberg out in front of him and a fast horse like Bodemeister right by him, I can’t see Hansen taking all that pressure and hanging on for a mile and a quarter. You just can’t come up with a tactical scenario under which he could possibly win.
Scheinman: You do a massive amount of preparation before you venture out to wager. Are there any goodies you have uncovered this year you’re willing to share?
Beyer: No I haven’t.
Scheinman: You hate coming to Churchill Downs. When was the last time you were here and what happened that turned you off?
Beyer: Nothing turned me off. I covered the Derby from 1970 to 2004 when I took my buyout at the Post, and as great as the race itself is, the week before it just became tiresome and repetitive. Year after year, it was sort of the same schedule of pre-race events, listening to the same excuses and clichés and stupid utterances from trainers. To dutifully take notes and write down why Trinniberg is a mile-and-a-quarter horse, it got to be too much. It was a thrill to begin with, and I love the excitement of the race and handicapping it, but I’ll never spend a week in Louisville again.
Scheinman: Give us a winner?
Beyer: I don’t want to upstage my own column. Obviously, as a figure guy I do like Bodemeister, but I do have concerns about him too.