05/03/2009 3:02PM

Oaks 108, Derby 105


For the first time in the 19-year published history of Beyer Speed Figures, the Kentucky Oaks has received a better figure than the Kentucky Derby. Rachel Alexandra's 20 1/4-length victory Friday received a BSF of 108, making it the highest ever by a point over Silverbulletday's 107 a decade ago. Mine That Bird's 6 3/4-length victory Saturday received a 105, tied with Sea Hero's as the second lowest (to Giacomo's 100 in 2005) during that span.

As the chart below illustrates, it's only the third time since 1990 that the Derby has not come up at least five points better than the Oaks. The average spread is nine points and has been as much as 19 (Barbaro's 111 vs. Lemons Forever's 92 in 2006):

The Derby figure may seem low for a winner whose 6 3/4-lengths margin was the largest in 63 years, but that's what it comes up using the same variant as was applied to two earlier dirt routes on the card and the seven-furlong race that followed the Derby. The track did seem to slow down in the middle of the card, and while one can never be 100 percent confident in gauging the race-to-race speed of a messy and ever-changing track, the figure seems perfectly reasonable.

A winning fig of 105 gives the three horses who finished in a photo for second -- Pioneerof the Nile, Musket Man and Papa Clem -- BSF's of 95. The six Beyers they ran in their combined last two starts were all in the 92-to-101 range, and it's hard to argue that any of them took some big step forward yesterday -- they were losing steam and falling farther behind with each stride.

It's amusing to imagine what we'd all be talking about today if Mine That Bird hadn't been in the race or turned in the nifty performance that he did. People would be marvelling at the closest three-way Derby finish ever; comparing it to the Silver Charm-Captain Bodgit-Free House thriller of 1997; focussing on the apprarent contact between Pioneerof the Nile and Musket Man nearing the wire; promoting Pioneerof the Nile as a likely Triple Crown winner who would be the savior of racing; pronouncing this a trio of game, gutsy and above-average colts; and then marching on Castle Beyer with torches and pitchforks when the race got a 95.

Early reports are that few from the Derby field will return for the Preakness, but I suspect that will change in the next few days as handlers decide, with some justification, that the track condition gives everyone an excuse to try again.

--Derby Day betting (see the full chart at the end of the previous post) was down 20 percent year-over-year after the first five races but picked up later in the day. The final commingled-pool total (excluding two-day and futures bets) was $153.0 million for 13 races as opposed to $161.6 million for 12 races a year ago, a 5 percent decline if you ignore the additional race. Betting on the intrarace Derby pools -- straight, exacta, trifecta and superfecta -- was down 10 percent year over year, right around where the industry as a whole has been running all year, and a lot better than the 20+ percent declines in casino gambling amid the recession.

The gains in Derby betting were all in multirace pools: the pick-3 ending with the Derby was up 13 percent year over year, the pick-4 was up 9 percent, and the pick-6 (aided by a $131k carryover) was up 57 percent.

In addition to the $781k pick-six carryover into the Wednesday Churchill card, there's a $251k carryover in the Super High Five -- a bet that seems to have lost steam nationally and which was down 25 percent on the Derby this year from its introduction in 2008.

I think Churchill could give itself an immediate handle boost next year simply by allowing dime superfectas instead of banning them on Oaks and Derby Day. Since the vast majority of these bets are placed offtrack, fears that they would tie up betting lines seem unfounded.

Here's the pick-6 lineup for Churchill on Wednesday, an understandably thin and modest card after 25 straight stakes, allowance and maiden races on Oaks and Derby Day:

--P.S.: I'm getting tired of reading that the Derby exacta somehow came back "light" or "short" from people who seemingly can't do simple math. How much more than $2,074.80 do you want a $2 exacta to pay for a 50.6-1 shot over a 6.3-1 shot? In fact, the payoff was much larger than the win odds would suggest, reflecting that Mine That Bird may well have been over 100-1 in most pools, as he was with European bookmakers and on betting exchanges such as Betfair.