10/17/2001 11:00PM

Belmont track trends could give clues to the Cup

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ELMONT, N.Y. - "Who d'ya like?"

The question reverberates around Belmont Park's cavernous confines and echoes louder and louder with each passing day. And now that Daily Racing Form's Breeders' Cup Advance past performances have hit newsstands and cyberspace, the familiar query gathers a full head of steam and charges headlong through racetracks and simulcast facilities nationwide.

"Who d'ya like?!"

Hang on there, big fella. Until we get a little closer to race day, it's tough to absolutely, positively, unconditionally like anybody, isn't it?

To be sure, the familiar ritual of sorting out the contenders is pretty straightforward stuff in most, if not all the Cup races. But the fine-line decisions that make or break a day at the races simply have to wait.

You say you like Officer? Well, how much? Do you like him as much at 3-5 as you do at even money? There's a big difference between $3.20 and $4. Is there a bridgejumper in the pool that might make a $20 show flyer on Siphonic feasible?

How does Officer look coming onto the track? Speaking of the track, is it fast or sloppy? Or is it drying-out mud? How much rain, if any, did the turf courses get during the week?

What's the temperature? Is an Indian-summer type of afternoon causing the majority of horses to wash out during the post parade? Or is it a blustery fall day, and only the highly touted favorite in the next race is dripping wet?

These questions and many more like them sit on the back burner until next Saturday, because late October historically offers a wide range of weather, and an equally varied potpourri of race-day conditions.

They ran the Breeders' Cup here for the first time on Oct. 27, 1990, when, despite bright sunshine, the temperature was a frosty 43 degrees. Because of that bright sunshine, Dayjur jumped a shadow yards from the wire and snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in the Sprint.

Five years later, the second Breeders' Cup at Belmont took place under showery skies. The main track was muddy and inside paths were the best place to be, which was a stark contrast from the way Big Sandy routinely favors runners in outside lanes. The turf was so soft that Northern Spur required 2:42 to win the Turf, almost 18 seconds off the course record.

Last year, the temperature on the final Saturday of Belmont's fall meet was a balmy 70 degrees.

So if you're scoring at home or otherwise trying to make order out of chaos, which is the nature of this game, what follows is a rundown of some noteworthy conditions at Belmont through the last month. This data might be of some help in evaluating performances when horses race back during Breeders' Cup week, or perhaps even in actual Cup races:

Oct. 17 - Severe headwind backstretch and into the far turn. All five dirt winners were positioned at least three wide on the turn.

Oct. 13 - All six dirt races won by early-pace types.

Oct. 4 through 8 - Dead rail on the main track for an entire week, including the Jockey Club Gold Cup card on Oct. 6.

Sept. 30 - Showery. Main track harrowed through the third race; floated thereafter.

Sept. 29 - Turn times in sprints (second fraction) received a tailwind boost.

Sept. 26 - Seven of eight dirt winners raced in outside paths.

Sept. 21 - Drying-out surface was floated for the first four races, and horses racing well out in the track had an edge. The track was harrowed from the fifth race on, and horses on the inside fared noticeably better.

Sept. 20 - Showery conditions. The track went from good to muddy to sloppy while floated throughout the day, and favored early speed.

Sept. 19 - Outside paths best. At least four horses who raced on the dead rail have already come back to win.