It's a humbling thought to imagine that the editor of the DRF reads what you write. I'm honored that Steve Crist is among the very few who read my little space. He even devoted space in his own blog to comment on mine. I feel as though a slight rebuttal or clarification is in order because I don't want to gain a reputation as one who unduly criticizes Beyer Speed Figures.
It was more the pattern of decline that caught my eye. Coupled also with the statement made by Mike Watchmaker that "unless an 86 Beyer is the new 96, it's understandable if you're starting to wonder if this 3-year-old crop has any greatness in it."
I fully agree that the crop of 2008 was worse than the crop of 2007 but it's a little early to give up on the crop of 2009. It occurred to me that perhaps the figures don't do full justice to the quality.
I do find it reasonable to wonder if the 2007 was really 7 points worse, on average, than the group of 2001 which was highlighted by Point Given, Monarchos and Congaree? To the naked eye one would roughly assume them to be equals.
I don't mean to disparage Beyer figures. I do use them and rely on them a lot for the historical profiles I made for the Derby and BC races. I've just recently noticed this phenomena of decline and in my personal handicapping I have been balancing the Beyer figs with the SR/TV and finding the odd anomaly which has kept me away from some contenders.
It's not just Beyer figures either. I don't have as much BRIS data but what I do have is the winning figs of all the preps since 2003. They paint a similar picture to the one the Beyer figures give.
2008 - 99.67
2007 - 100.50
2006 - 103.63
2005 - 102.85
2004 - 103.85
2003 - 104.20
They show a fairly steady decline in the average speed of the prep races.
Thoro-Graph sheets are calculated on a totally different scale and are slightly different than speed figures. Lower numbers mean faster performances. Here is how they rate the same subset of races.
2008 - 1.93
2007 - 2.77
2006 - 1.20
2005 - 2.46
2004 - 1.05
2003 - 1.40
2002 - 2.58
2001 - 2.53
2000 - 5.25
1999 - 5.44
1998 - 4.86
1997 - 5.75
The speed of the three year old prep races according to Jerry Brown looks a little different. From 1997 to the present there has been significant improvement in the numbers given. It's a fairly well known fact that the staff at Thoro-graph does believe that horses are getting faster. However even with the current Beyer Figure declines I do think that Beyer is painting a more accurate picture than Thoro-graph. I have a hard time swallowing the notion that the 2008 crop was the third fastest in the last dozen years.
I guess my point in the end is that speed figures, sheets and crude ratings all attempt to quantify what our eyes behold. Sometimes they're on track, sometimes they might mislead a bit. I would encourage horse players to look at multiple sources, even just the Beyers and SV/TR's to get a bit more balance. Ultimately you will need to make up your mind about what you believe because there are some widely varied results among the most popular sources.