HRN Original Blog:
Zipse At The Track

I'll take my eyes over your numbers every time


An industry person recently tried to compare favorably the running ability of A.P. Indy versus his daddy, Seattle Slew, by saying that the son “had better numbers” than his sire. 

Our brief conversation took place online, so the other person could not see my reaction. I laughed, and then I shook my head with a mixed feeling of sadness and disbelief. His comment ended our brief debate, for I believed anything further would be less desirable than sticking my forehead under a dripping faucet for the rest of the morning. 

With all due respect to A.P Indy, who was a fine racehorse, and then went on to be an outstanding sire, but he was in no way, shape, or form, the runner that his father was. If you disagree with that fundamental statement, you should probably stop reading right now.

Perhaps the exchange should have not struck a nerve with me, as I know the other person to be younger than me, and therefore did not have the opportunity to see both horses run in person as I did, but still, I found it downright disrespectful to say this about one of the sport’s all-time greats, especially considering that the comment came from a respected voice in the industry. 

Forgetting about how completely silly I feel the above comparison is, I see it as an example of a troublesome trend that only seems to be getting worse in the handicapping or the comparing of horses.

The figures guys loved Ghostzapper, Invasor not so much. Who was better? I'm not sure, but I do know that there was a whole lot more to Invasor than a lone, solitary number given to him after any one of his victories. I fear that speed figures are stripping the judge for yourself know-how away from a vast majority of new generations of race fans.


For a more recent example, Princess of Sylmar was let go at odds of 38-1 before winning this year’s Kentucky Oaks. Why? Speed figures. The numbers guys said she was too slow to beat the likes of Dreaming of Julia, Beholder, and Unlimited Budget. Surely her first-first-second in three New York stakes coming into the Oaks should have earned her some respect. Apparently not.

I won’t bore you with my score on her at Churchill Downs, but I will say that I watched the races of all the Oaks fillies leading up to the race, and luckily for me, the eyes don’t lie.


I could see with my own eyes that she not only belonged with these other fillies, but the Oaks represented a real advantageous dynamic for her running style. If I had listened to the speed figure gurus, I would have given her no shot, but instead I believed what I had seen for myself, and only used the numbers to get odds beyond my wildest dreams.


Now don’t get me wrong, there clearly is a place for mathematical representations of a horse’s performance within a race. In fact, I believe the work done by my friend, Dr. William Quirin, beginning in the 1970’s, was revolutionary. Quirin recognized the importance of pace within the race and how to to best predict the outcome by analyzing each horse’s propensity to run fast early, or not, and by representing this information through tangible numbers. His work came at a time when little serious crunching of numbers was done to help the average handicapper.

A lot has changed since then. I would call it a dumbing down of Quirin’s work. He didn’t aim to put a single number on a horse’s performance in a race. Quirin was smarter than that. He rather only attempted to apply a numerical value to what style of race the horse would run to help the handicapper decide what the dynamics of a race would likely look like.

Examples of Quirin’s work are still out there, and even advanced, but that is not what the vast majority of race goers see. They instead know that one final number. To use the most popular one out there; horse A has an average Beyer of 85 in his last three starts, while horse B only averaged an 80 in his last three starts. Handicapping or comparing of the two is over … horse A is clearly better. I find it laughable.

I know a lot of people have made a lot of money hawking their numbers, figs, speed ratings, but comparing only a single final number is nothing short of lazy handicapping. There is so much more to it. From understanding pace scenarios, to trip handicapping, to recognizing past patterns, the comparing of horse A to horse B, or the handicapping of a race is an intricate system that should be relished, rather than skipped.

Horses are so much more than a number on a sheet of paper or computer screen. That is what the numbers guys just don’t get, or maybe they do, and it is just the folks that rely so heavily on their numbers that are really missing out. Horses are living, breathing animals that possess a mind, a heart, and a soul. Seattle Slew had all three in spades. Anyone that saw him run knows what I am talking about

A.P. Indy better than Seattle Slew? It still makes me shake my head. 


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Older Comments about I'll take my eyes over your numbers every time...

funny people USED to say the same thing about close finishes until the photo finish cameras were installed.
WIth a little research I could find most ALL big name horses who had their bugaboos. Beat all of them except their nemesis
I think the a race between the two would be very close but since Seattle Slew proved himself a ltiile more than I would give him the edge. Also Slew would be more forwardly placed giving him a better chance at getting the better trip. As for the best horse of this century I'm going with Zenyatta. Here's a video tribute to AP Indy as what he produced
EVEN the big late movers in the big track and SLOWING down SLOWER than their associates so the eye is NOT a good measure of relaitivy but using a YARDSTICK, velocity per second, gives objectivity to the observation for comparison
we bestow these ridiculous lofty perches to horse that only ran 10 to 15 times during the HEIGHT Of their physical state...That doesn't tell one much...Durablity is the lost aspect of quality any longer.
Who had the longest multiple phased career and blossumed in all aspects, short long, whatever surface wet or dry, WHATEVER weight, Whatever pace scenario you threw at him, was sturdy and gritty...IT all points to the great geldings of the last century DURABLE, NOT perfect but ready to come again anytime under any conditions
My top two remain Secretariat and Spectacular Bid, Hannah.
Since you mentioned being there to see the horses race in the '70's Brian. It made me curious, who do you think is the best racehorse?
What my eyes tells me is that horses today are not comparable to the past great thoroughbreds. The breeding is completely different. Today the breeding is toward short distance speedballs, while in the past it was towards speed but also emphasize durability and stamina.
figures are for lazy cappers.
Rock solid, Brian! I have found that I typically do a better handicapping in Hong Kong where the PPs are absent of any type of speed figures. I will admit that I let speed figures influence my handicapping, but I certainly dont use them as anything more than a guideline, and maybe that is even too much. As to the start of your story, Slew was one of a kind, and no matter how many talented and successful horses come along, there will still be only one Slew. The '78 JCGC says it all.
Right on the money!
I do agree with you regarding speed figures Brian.I use them and rely on then for about 60% of my handicapping.There ar also many other factors to take into consideration.Not to bore people with the list,an important one is the good old eye test.If they do not impresss you or they do impress you.Do not allow someone elses' subjective thinking to get in your way.In regards to Indy and Slew.I always hate comparing great against great.Just as in the field of Sports,to make a point for ones selection.We tend to not intentionally take down the other a few notches ,just to prove our point.If i were forced to compare the 2,i would not look at their lifetime achievements.Unfortunately Indy,due to health issues was not able to dance evey dance.Therefore i look at how they stack up against each other at their very best.My findings,they were 2 of the more outstanding racehorses of our generation.Indy's win in the Breeders Cup Classic against arguably one of the 3 best fields ever assembled was eye popping.I really can't see that much of a difference when comparing them at their best.Just to sway from the topic at hand.Sort of like in Sports.i never saw Jim Brown play at his best.But Gale Sayers in my eyes was the greatest Running back ever.Not because of his lifetime achievements.But i look at his peak season performance.Same concept in hockey.Many legends have laced up the skates.None in my opinion did it any better tha Bobby Orr.Health deprived us of a full career.But just ike Indy and Slew.They passed te eye test.
A.P. Indy should be a triple crown winner
SUBJECTIVITY is a clouded window to the reality of fractional velocities
AND this has been an EXCELLENT year for that, by the way! lol
First of all, could'nt agree more about just shaking my head at the statement at hand. Secondly, anyone who thinks Ghostzapper did'nt ALSO pass the "eye test" must've never watched him run!! One of the VERY few in modern times to make my jaw drop EVERY time he ran! Lastly, I LOVE the "figure" guys, because they are easy money for those of us who know a good horse, or a ready horse, when we "see" one!! ; )
I get your point, although, This is the exact same thing as comparing Secretariat to Man O War. You just dont know what the outcome would be. You can assume all you want. We all know the saying about assuming. Ill sit back and just say they were both great horses and it would be a race I would love to see.
Dr. William Quirin, IMO put out the best material of anyone in regard to how to handicap. Was he a genius at this, IMO yes.
People forget that horses don't look at their numbers. They look at the other horses in the race, and as long as they finish ahead of the other horses, they win.

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Meet Brian Zipse 

Brian has been a passionate fan of horse racing his entire life. Taken to the races at a very young age, he has been lucky enough to see all the greats in person from Secretariat, Forego, and Ruffian through Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta, and American Pharoah. Before coming to the Nation, Brian displayed his love for the sport through the development of his horse racing website, which quickly became one of the most popular blogs in the game. 

The Editor of Horse Racing Nation from 2010-2017, Brian authored a daily column as Zipse at the Track, or ZATT for short, and added his editorial flare to the overall content of the website. Now a Senior Writer for HRN, Brian continues to contribute his thoughts on racing, as well as co-hosting the popular racing show, HorseCenter. A big supporter of thoroughbred aftercare, he serves as the President of The Exceller Fund.

Brian's work has also been published on several leading industry sites. He has consulted for leading contest site Derby Wars, is both a Hall of Fame and NTRA poll voter, and is a Vox Populi committee member. 

A horse owner and graduate of DePaul University, Brian lives just outside of Louisville with his wife Candice and daughter Kendra.


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