Much has been written about the Beyer Speed Figures of this years Triple Crown contenders. There is no question that on average the figures awarded to the prep winners have been, on average, the slowest on record.
Here is a comparison of the average Beyer Figures awarded for all the Derby prep races for the last 5 years.
2008 - 92
2007 - 94
2006 - 96
2005 - 94
2004 - 95
The Lexington is still to come but the average will remain at 92 unless the Lexington winner runs more than 110 or less than 78. Speed figures are not always a true indicator of quality but they are what they are and there is no denying that they're slower than usual.
However I'm not going to get into a post about the crop being slow. I thought it would rather serve us well to ignore the specific figures for a moment and focus solely on the patterns of the figures.
Are some patterns superior? Are any Beyer patterns clear red flags? I have them split into 6 different patterns. "A" represents the highest speed figure in the horses last three races while "C" the lowest. I won't insult your intelligence by explaining what "B" indicates. The patterns are listed with the most recent race first so an A/B/C pattern is a horse with 3 improving Beyer figures going into the Derby. Here is how the patterns have looked since 1996.
Beyer Pattern A/B/C: 75-3-7-5
Beyer Pattern A/C/B: 32-3-2-4
Beyer Pattern B/A/C: 40-4-2-2
Beyer Pattern B/C/A: 16-1-0-0
Beyer Pattern C/A/B: 23-0-1-1
Beyer Pattern C/B/A: 19-1-0-0
As you can see the majority of the winners came into the Derby with one of the first three patterns. The classic "three improving figures" pattern was easily the most common producing 35% of the Derby starters and yet it is not necessarily the pattern with the strongest results. Clearly A/C/B and B/A/C are rather strong patterns as well.
On the downside it seems clear from these pattern breakdowns that the two things you don't want to see from your horse is their best figure (A) coming 3 starts back. You also don't want to see their worst figure being earned in their final race. Horses with either factor working against them went 58-2-1-1. It clearly looks like the worst pattern subset to me. If you exclude 2yo races for those with just 2 starts as a 3yo the record of horses whose final Beyer was worse than their last two you get a cumulative record of 39-0-1-1. Not a real positive.
What does it mean for this year? Well, excluding the Lexington starters here is how the current Derby contenders fit into the patterns.
A/B/C - Big Brown, Court Vision, Tale Of Ekati
A/C/B - Adriano, Colonel John, Gayego, Smooth Air, Z Fortune, Eight Belles, Recapturetheglory, Monba
B/A/C - Denis of Cork
B/C/A - Bob Black Jack, War Pass, Cowboy Cal
C/A/B - Pyro, Visionaire, Cool Coal Man
Make of that what you will. Remember no one statistic is an absolute. They are merely tools to help shape your view of the Derby. Very often the Derby winner will conform to the most pertinent statistics.