In more than a half century of involvement with thoroughbred racing, Andrew Beyer made his mark as a newspaper columnist, an author and a gambler. His impact on the sport is still evident, as the Beyer Speed Figures have become a widely accepted measurement of U.S. racehorses’ performances.
As he grew up in Erie, Pa. and then attended Harvard, Beyer loved to bet. After his non-graduation, he got a dream job: writing a column on horse racing for the tabloid Washington Daily News. Going to the track every day gave him the chance to get serious about handicapping. He launched a project to analyze the final times of races and create a rating system based on them.
In the era before personal computers, compiling the necessary data was a laborious task, but between 1971 and 1974 Beyer developed this methodology for calculating speed figures. Around this time, he got an inquiry from an editor at Houghton Mifflin: Would he be interested in writing a book? Beyer was interested, though he had no expectation of literary success, because the heart of his book, “Picking Winners,” would be a daunting, dense explanation of speed figures. But “Picking Winners” was propelled by a laudatory review in the New York Times, and it went on to be recognized as the classic text on handicapping. It is still in print, and it has been translated into Japanese and Korean. Beyer wrote three subsequent books: “My $50,000 Year at the Races,” (1978), “The Winning Horseplayer” (1983) and “Beyer on Speed,” (1993.)
Beyer began writing for The Washington Post in 1978, and the national reach of that newspaper expanded the audience for his columns. He wrote principally from the perspective of a fan and a gambler, frequently castigating racetrack managements for their treatment of customers, and calling out the “super-trainers” who—presumably with the aid of illegal drugs—achieved feats that defied the logic of handicapping. Beyer had a long run at the Post until 2014, when he retired from journalism to concentrate on the speed-figure business.
He had never aspired to publish the figures—he relished the edge they gave him as a bettor—but he said yes in 1991 when Steve Crist’s upstart, The Racing Times, wanted to include figures in its past performances. He said yes again when Daily Racing Form followed suit after The Racing Times folded. Beyer and his friend Mark Hopkins, who had collaborated on making figures since the 1970s, formed a business partnership and assembled a team to make figures for most of the tracks in the country.
After the numbers were published in DRF, the Beyer Speed Figures became ubiquitous. Analysts on television routinely cite them when they handicap. Breeders promote them in their advertisements for stallions. The industry recognized their importance when it gave Beyer its highest honor, the Eclipse Award of Merit, in 2016.