10/29/2007 1:29PM

BC Figs, Birthday Horse

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How many horses handled the sloppy main track or soft turf course and ran their races Saturday at Monmouth? The chart below, which compares the Beyer Speed Figure earned by BC Day runners to their most recent Beyer, shows only 20 of 77 comparable horses matching or exceeding their most recent effort.

I haven't listed a "difference" for horses who did not finish or were virtually eased (I used a Beyer of 25 as a cutoff), and I'm not going to try to make comparisons involving horses whose last race was in Europe. In that latter group -- this was the first time in nine years that the Euros failed win a single race -- it's probably fair to say that almost all ran below their typical level of foreign performance, which would make the total percentage even worse.

I'm not sure what the number should be. Obviously the high level of competition is going to takes its toll: Almost everyone is emerging from a 1-2-3 finish in a less talented field, and many horses will be unable to keep up and duplicate their previous efforts. Even so, 20 of 77 (26 percent) seems awfully low, indicative of many horses simply turning in non-efforts because of the footing, and borne out by the huge gaps from front to back.

The race that really looks weird in this comparison is the Sprint, where every single runner went backwards off his previous race. My first thought was that the figure was too low; it could certainly be arbitrarily raised, given that it was the last sprint of the day and the first in nearly three hours, a period during which the track was hit with more rain. On the other hand, it stands to reason that even the super-impressive winner, Midnight Lute, fell way off his huge Forego figure given that he was outrun early and appeared to be struggling to handle the track until he hit his best stride. The horses who ran fourth or worse all clearly didn't fire their best shots, so it comes down to whether you believe Idiot Proof and Talent Search matched their most recent performances in defeat or regressed a few points while running second and third. Watching both of them labor through the stetch, I can buy the latter point of view and thus the seemingly low figure.

--A horseplayer should always make a bet on the biggest race that's being run on his birthday. This was easy for me two years ago when October 29 was Breeders' Cup Day at Belmont, but a bit more challenging today, when the richest Thoroughbred event in North America is not the $5 million BC Classic but two divisions of the $50,000 Michigan Juvenile Fillies Stakes at Great Lakes Downs. Even so, I took a look and I'll make a token play for karma's sake on Cheries Challenge. She's the 2-1 ML favorite but looks more like 2-5 to me. The 2-year-old daughter of Meadow Prayer (Meadowlake) and Charles Dance (De Jeau) owns the three highest Beyers in the field (55-44-42), has run second and third to the absent queen of the division (Equitysdebutante) and comes off a forgiveably tiring 2nd at 3-5 on a track so muddy and tiring the winner needed 1:16.53 to negotiate six furlongs.

Michigan
Great Lakes is scheduled to close, for the season and quite possibly for good, next week. There's talk of a proposed new track, a $140 million facility called Pinnacle Downs, opening in the eastern part of the state, but for now this would be the end of thoroughbred racing in the Wolverine State. There is plenty of melancholy and acrimony surrounding the likely closure of the track, which has supported a largely insular population of Michigan-breds and horsemen since 1999.

Looking through the Great Lakes past performances for today, I found a remarkable pair of stablemate racemares entered in the nightcap, a $4k N2Y claimer: Double Hat Trick, a 10-year-old daughter of Sefapiano (Fappiano), and Overnight Angel, a 9-year-old by Service Stripe (Deputy Minister), have made 86 and 85 career starts respectively, while spending their entire careers in the barn of owner-trainer Shane Spiess, who also bred Overnight Angel.

Both have left the Spiess outfit briefly for forays south to Indiana Downs and Hoosier Park each year, but have made it through a combined 171 career starts without ever being claimed away.

[Update 6:42 pm: I'm the new King of the Wolverine 3-10 shots: Cheries Challenge won by eight lengths but at substantially less than her 2-1 ML odds, paying a whopping $2.60. Turns out she can handle slow tracks after all: Time for the seven furlongs was 1:32.24. I don't think my $50 win bet tilted the odds. Now, what to do with the $15 profit?]

--At the risk of overstaying my welcome, I'm going to keep this blog going past my initial promise to do so "at least until the Breeders' Cup." Thank you all for your kind comments, encouragement and participation.