09/27/2008 11:01PM

Neither Rain Nor Rubber


Despite slop and yielding turf at Belmont and the new Pro-Ride surface at Santa Anita, Saturday's record 11 Grade 1 stakes at the two tracks were generally formful affairs, with 6 of the 11 going to favorites and 9 of the 11 won at 3-1 or less. The only jokers in the deck were the two sprint races, with Black Seventeen scoring at 23-1 in the Vosburgh and Cost of Freedom, claimed for $50k two starts back, upending three G1 winners to win the Ancient Title at nearly 6-1. Four of the six favorites sent off at even-money or less came through (Curlin, Zenyatta, Wait a While, Stardom Bound) while Ginger Punch (Beldame) and Mauralakana (Flower Bowl) both finished second.

I sat outside at Belmont to get what might have been a final look at Curlin, at least outside of Los Angeles or Tokyo, the likeliest venues for his next start. It sounds like his connections are at least thinking about running over Pro-Ride in the BC Classic. Personally, I'd rather see him try the Japan Cup Dirt, which would be groundbreaking and make him a winner of the year's biggest real-dirt races on three continents (Dubai World Cup, JC Gold Cup, Japan Cup Dirt). But the chorus of people claiming he'd be "ducking" Big Brown, and the muscle of a Breeders' Cup board intent on validating its controversial decision to run the next two Classics over a new synthetic surface, may yet sway his owners from their initial sensible stand.

Curlin received a preliminary Beyer Speed Figure, subject to review, of 111 for his second straight JCGC, beating runnerup-to-the-stars (Invasor, Bernardini, Lawyer Ron, Curlin) Wanderin Boy by three-quarters of a length. The Belmont figures look pretty straightforward for the second half of the card: The preliminary Beyers for the other G1's are 99 for Cocoa Beach, 104 for Dynaforce, 108 for Black Seventeen and 112 for Grand Couturier (who won by 10 1/4 lengths.)

The Oak Tree figures aren't up yet and could be troublesome, not just because of possible fluctuations in the speed of Pro-Ride but because of the vastly different paces of Saturday's two G1 10-furlong grass races.

On the main track, Zenyatta's 1:40.30 winning the Lady's Secret comes up a length or two better than Well Armed's 1:47.11 in the Goodwood, but it's also quite possible she's just better than the California-based older males. As for the turf races, it's unlikely that Red Giant and Out of Control are really 12 lengths faster than Wait a While despite their time of 1:57.16 as opposed to her 1:59.16. The come-home times are a lot closer, though. The pace of the Clement Hirsch was a scorching 1:08.86/1:32.88 as opposed to the 1:12.31/ 1:35.63 of the Yellow Ribbon.

Red Giant and Wait a While are both trained by Todd Pletcher, who was previously 1 (Monba) for 27 in G1 races this year after winning 17 such events in both 2006 and 2007. He also won Saturday's G2 Hawthorne Gold Cup with Fairbanks.

There's a lot to digest in today's results, but for now it looks like Zenyatta -- undefeated and improving while she stays that way -- could be the biggest favorite on the entire Breeders' Cup program. She toyed with Hystericalady today, Ginger Punch lost, and Music Note has yet to run a race in Zenyatta's current territory. Zenyatta will get an additional sixteenth of a mile to work with in the Ladies' Classic, and she's proved she can run on anything, including Pro-Ride.

And it looks like the male sprint division, especially after the Ancient Title and Vosburgh results, is in complete disarray. Unless someone really steps up, Benny the Bull could well end up the titleist despite suffering a career-ending injury in July.

On the wagering front, I played the stakes-related pick-4's at Belmont, Oak Tree, Hawthorne and Turfway and had all the little ones that didn't pay for themselves while missing the healthy ones thanks to Wise River in the Carey at Hawthorne and Black Seventeen in the Vosburgh. I know Black Seventeen had a competitive race on wet dirt at Calder last summer, but after desperately needing him to win the restricted Pirate's Bounty Stakes on closing day at Del Mar and watching him fail despite a loose lead, I had trouble liking him to outduel the likes of Fantastic Strike in a G1 race.

Finally, here's the new list of the highest earners in racing history who have made at least one start in North America: