08/17/2004 11:00PM

Beyer cycles spot high-price winners


LAS VEGAS - When Beyond Chance won the ninth race at Saratoga on Aug. 13, my race book neighbor turned to me in disbelief: "How could that horse win!? He's the worst horse in the race - the longest shot in the field!"

Beyond Chance was indeed the longest shot in the field, but he was far from being the worst horse. And you would have recognized that fact if you had read your Beyer Speed Figures right.

Back in May at Belmont Park, Beyond Chance had won back-to-back races with Beyers of 84 and 85. He followed those peak efforts with a bounce down to a miserable 36 on a wet track, and then improved to a 71 on July 8. He was in the midst of a potential figure cycle that could return him back up to a Beyer in the mid-80's. But his next start, on July 23, came on a sloppy, sealed track that could very well have compromised his chances. So, if you could excuse that race, the potential was still there for Beyond Chance to improve toward his earlier 84 and 85. If he could do that on Aug. 13 - completing his interrupted cycle - he would be a serious contender. Viewed from this revealing angle, his odds of 26-1 in this eight-horse field were astounding.

Now, don't get me wrong. The ninth race on Aug. 13 was not an easy puzzle. Cool Luke (trained by Mark Shuman, owned by Michael Gill) looked like the clear speed. He had to be used. Stong looked fairly solid. And Orka had a similar cycling pattern to that of Beyond Chance. But there were many ways to deal with these complications. You could play the pick three, using all four horses in the ninth. (It paid $462 with logical horses in the seventh and eighth.) You could play the pick four. (It paid $944 - also with logical horses in all the earlier legs.) You could spread around in exactas ($256 with Cool Luke second) or triples ($699 with Stong completing the gimmick).

The victory of Beyond Chance provided another lesson for handicappers. Beyond Chance had not done well in his most recent race - and that had been on a sealed, sloppy track, the same type of surface he was facing in the ninth at Saratoga. But all wet tracks are not created equal. A poor effort on the sandier Belmont surface did not necessarily mean that he would not handle the very different Saratoga dirt. At 26-1, you could afford to take a shot.

The day after Beyond Chance's win, a similar cycler, Fines Creek, benefited from the slow break and early rush-up by Chow Down to catch that speedster in the final yards. Fines Creek paid $31.20. And the day after that, Roar on Tour was very useable at $14.80.

Here are some other notable examples of cycling in the first three weeks at Saratoga:

* Puget Sound, July 31, sixth race. He had earned a 92 Beyer on the lead at Churchill Downs back on May 9, bounced down to a 60, and came back to a 75 in his most recent effort. Continued improvement up to a 92 would make him tough to beat. He had the favorable rail position at one mile on the inner turf. And he was nearly 10-1. It looked like the perfect set-up - until jockey "Patient Pat" Day decided to do a rare imitation of Bill Daly and hustled out to open an absurd 10-length lead on the field. He was caught only in the last few jumps, losing by three-quarters of a length. The exacta with Sir Walter Rahy paid $84.

* Buzzy's Gold, Aug. 5, sixth race. In a tough five-horse sprint, Buzzy's Gold was tremendous value, paying $21.80 after benefiting from a speed duel between Savoy Special and Formal Attire. His Beyers cycled from 99 to 80 to 85 up to a winning 101.

* Capital Spending, Aug. 7, seventh race. Back on May 8 at Churchill Downs, Capital Spending had dueled the entire trip for 1 1/4 miles, losing by a nose with a Beyer of 92. He followed that draining effort with a 73, a 64, and then an upward move to an 87. Continued improvement would make him very tough. At odds of 11-1, he was an extraordinary play. Unfortunately, he received an extraordinarily bad ride, rushing up early to chase, parked three and four wide on both turns, and moving too soon to take the lead late on the final turn. He nearly won anyway, only succumbing in the last 50 yards and earning a 93 Beyer despite the disastrous trip. For those who liked the fortunate Philanthropist on top, the exacta paid $75.

* Fast Cookie, Aug. 1, eighth race. He had a Beyer Figure of 98 on the turf back on May 9 at Churchill and was cycling back up via figures of 83 and 90. He managed to get up in the late stages, paying $17.60.

We're only at halftime for the Saratoga meeting, but the figure-cycling angle has already produced a meet's worth of live runners at big prices. Unfortunately, digging out these value plays is never the end of the story. There are betting decisions to be made, and then the jockeys have to go to work. And so you always end up with the usual parimutuel mix of happy endings, not-so-happy endings, and downright horrific endings. I'm afraid no figure angle - no matter how effective or sophisticated - can ever save you from these hard facts of life at the racetrack.