03/09/2009 2:16PM

He Wanted Dirt



However you look at it, I Want Revenge was dazzling winning the G3 Gotham Saturday by 8 1/2 lengths, an effort that may have been even better than Quality Road's Fountain of Youth a week earlier. Both races earned extraordinary Beyer Speed Figures of 113, but I Want Revenge's came around two turns and in a race half a furlong farther.

There's nothing fishy about the figure, which fit perfectly with the G3 sprint stakes that preceded it and the claiming route that followed it:

Nevertheless, the figure is being viewed with skepticism by some who find it impossible to believe that I Want Revenge improved around 20 points off his most recent California efforts. The figures must be broken, they argue, and either I Want Revenge isn't anything special, or the rest of the Californians with whom he's been in blanket finishes on synthetic tracks are all going to start running 113's when they head east and hit the dirt.

I wouldn't bet on it. I Want Revenge instead strikes me as a good example of Bob Baffert's accurate pronouncement that synthetic tracks can "make good horses look mediocre and mediocre horses look good." There's simply no way to torture the figures to conclude that I Want Revenge ran no better in the Gotham than he had in California. Even before the race, his connections were saying that he was "spinning his wheels" on synthetic tracks. Jockey Joe Talamo said he thought he was going to win the R.B. Lewis by open lengths at the quarter pole and that the horse virtually stopped running. That's why he was sent to New York and became Jeff Mullins's first starter here since the 2005 Breeders' Cup.

Rather than trying to reconcile his previous figures with the Gotham, handicappers would be better served by acknowledging that this horse wanted dirt and his quality was being camouflaged by the California tracks.

I Want Revenge is not the only Gotham runner worth following. Imperial Council's distant second was better than it looks on paper. It was his first try beyond seven furlongs, and he fell far back behind moderate fractions before storming past six horses through the stretch. He earned a respectable 98 Beyer in defeat and should only improve with distance and experience.

--The three Grade 1's at Santa Anita Saturday were all won by very nice horses with very different career arcs: the improving 4-year-old Gio Ponti, the steady 7-year-old Einstein and the stalled 3-year-old Stardom Bound.

Einstein, who became the nominal leader of the handicap division winning the Santa Anita Handicap, is the flip side of an I Want Revenge -- he runs about the same race every time regardless of whether it's dirt, turf or synth. He's no match for a true world-class champion on any surface, but he's a very admirable and consistent performer at the Grade 1 level and it's easy to root for him.

Gio Ponti, who nosed out the the excellent mare Ventura to win the Kilroe, may have found his niche as a turf miler. He was one of the nation's top middle-distance grass 3-year-olds last year but might be at his best at a mile and seems to have taken a step forward as a 4-year-old.

Stardom Bound, however, seems not to have improved at all from her 2-year-old to 3-year-old seasons. It might seem untoward to criticize a champion who has won five straight Grade 1 races, but her desperate nose victory in the Santa Anita Oaks was a disappointment -- not just to hypercritical turf writers but to her own connections, who have dialed back the talk about trying her against colts in Kentucky.

Stardom Bound didn't have a perfect set-up Saturday. She trailed early behind moderate fractions and forced to go at least seven paths wide on the stretch turn. But she caught up to her mediocre opponents by mistretch and then just couldn't put them away, winning a four-way photo by a whisker. She ran a better race against a better field on the same track over four months ago in the BC Juvenile Fillies, and is going to have to step up her game in the months ahead to maintain her dominance of the division.

--There's the first Magna 5 carryover of the year up for grabs next Saturday after no one came up with the sequence of Saarlight ($5.60), Sweet August Moon ($20.40), Discreet Treasure ($14.20), Judy Patootie ($22.00) and Apoplectic ($27.60) last Saturday. The pool was a season-low $374,692 and the carry is $218.895.

The Magna 5 was outhandled by the Aqueduct late pick-4 (the pool was $418,226), which offered outstanding value: a $4,257-for-$2 payoff on winners who paid $8.80 (Banker's Buy), $16.80 (Ah Day), $8.30 (I Want Revenge) and $14.60 (Friendly Pocket) -- nearly double the $2 parlay of $2,239.

I didn't even notice there was a $117k pick-six carry into Sunday's card at Gulfstream and neither did many horseplayers -- the Sunday pool was only $188,013, an unusual case of a six-figure carryover attracting so little fresh money. The largely chalky sequence paid $18,260.