03/24/2008 12:29PM

The Elusive 100


Maybe it's just a statistical oddity for now, and perhaps the final round of Derby preps will feature a bunch of breakout performances, but the failure of any 3-year-old to run a triple-digit Beyer in any of the Derby preps longer than a mile is going on much longer than usual this year.

The chart below gives a 10-year history of the winning Beyer Speed Figures in the six highest-grade Derby preps at 1 1/16 miles or more run so far this year, all of them Grade 2's: the Robert B Lewis (run as the Santa Catalina through 2005), Fountain of Youth, Louisiana Derby, Rebel, San Felipe and Lane's End:

In addition to this year's average winning Beyer in these six races being the lowest in a decade, this is the first year since at least 1999 that at least two of them have not been won with a Beyer of 100 or higher. From 1999 through 2004, at least four of the six were won with a triple-digit fig.

Factors involved in the decline could include a shift in training methods, with everyone bringing their horses along more slowly; few pre-Derby starts, which could mean that horses are making their first or second rather than second or third start of the year in these races; and slower-paced racing on synthetic surfaces.

It would be premature to call this a weak crop, just as I think many people went way overboard pronouncing last year's crop the greatest in a half-century. For my money, the 3-year-old class of 1987 (Alysheba, Java Gold, Bet Twice, Cryptoclearance, Lost Code, Gulch, Afleet, Polish Navy, Demons Begone, Gone West) was both deeper and faster than the class of 2007 (Curlin, Street Sense, Hard Spun, Any Given Saturday, Daaher, Tiago.)