There is plenty of chatter on the Interwebs about speed figures. For example, before the Preakness, we were told this may be a sub-par group of horses, but after (and after the nice Preakness fig), well, maybe not. Almost overnight this group of horses might be alright, historically.
I don't blame anyone for being confused.
I use speed figures all the time because, after all, the fastest horses win the races. With track's in 2012 being very, very confusing, a good fig, like say, Pacefigures.com puts out, is a big part of handicapping. It's also good to look at them and form an opinion on a horse historically, after the tack has long been hung up. They're predictive and they're pretty cool.
However, where I think they internally fail is in judging horseflesh before all is said and done.
I think back to Rachel Alexandra's first tilt as a four year old. For those who just watched the race, and compared her to the previous year, it was a pretty bad effort. She had no separation at all at the 5/8's against a horse she is probably 10 lengths better than, and she got beat to boot. She went slower than she usually does, but the number came back okay, so people figured as a prep that was fine. It was like we had to wait for a godlike presence to come from the sky to tell us what we were watching was bad or good.
This further was exemplified with the granddaddy (or grandma, I guess) of all weird fig horses - Zenyatta. We were told constantly she was "slow". When she finally did run a nice 112 in the Classic, she was slow, but decent on her preferred surface. It didn't matter she won at Oaklawn by five while stopping for a snow cone and posing for a few pictures at the top of the stretch - she ran a slow fig, so it wasn't really very impressive. Finally, when she closed from the Duquion State Fair and almost nipped Blame in the "dirt" classic, earning a 111, she was crowned a fast racemare. 20 races, 19 wins, 13 Grade I's, a Classic win against colts, most against pace setups over 3+ seasons; and we have to wait for her to "earn" a 111 before we can call her a 'great' racemare?
This year's crop, I think so far, is quite good. I thought that before the Preakness, and I think it today. IHA and Bode are clearly some stock. Creative Cause has not progressed a ton, but he's no slouch. Dullahan looks like a horse that can race and win on three different surfaces in nice times. Union Rags, I still believe, has some major go. There are probably a few others that we have not remotely seen at their best that have some chops, and will possibly prove themselves in the months to come.
It's a long year, and like the Preakness shows, on any given day there are capable horses who can step up and win with a nice number. The thing is, they were capable of it when they were running slower numbers, in March or April or in the Derby. There is more to horses, especially developing two or three year olds, or deep closers, than simply a number. Sometimes, in this day and age, I think we forget that.