06/23/2002 11:00PM

Beyers point out top racing circuit

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NEW YORK - Which circuit has the best racing in the United States?

That question has been asked for years, ever since the dominance of the New York circuit was eroded, first by fierce competition from Southern California and then by huge purse increases in central Kentucky.

Most people would probably say that in today's game, the best racing in the winter takes place in Southern California. In the spring, many would feel Kentucky has the edge, with New York being the best in the summer and fall.

Since the title of "Best Racing in the Country" is in a regular state of flux, perhaps the question really should be, which circuit has the best racing right now? Since it's summer, is the best racing really in New York?

There is a way to objectively and accurately measure the quality of racing on a given circuit - Beyer Speed Figures.

Beyer Speed Figures are a numerical quantification of how well horses have run, with the higher the number, the better the performance. The beauty of the Beyer Figures is that they are interchangeable from track to track, meaning an 80 at Monmouth Park equals an 80 at Arlington and an 80 at Calder. And since superior horses will, on average, consistently earn higher numbers, an analysis of Beyer Speed Figures will answer our question.

The perception may be that right now, the best racing in the United States is in New York at Belmont Park, but there are two other legitimate candidates for the title, Churchill Downs and Hollywood Park. I used a four-week sample size of the winning Beyers from these three tracks, from May 19 through June 15. That admittedly is only a snapshot in time, but it is long enough to reach a reliable conclusion.

Rather than taking all the winning Beyers and throwing them into one big pot to come up with a single winning average Beyer from each track, I carved up the results and came up with average winning Beyers in five categories - maiden races, claiming races (which includes starter allowance races, since these races are populated by claimers), allowance races (which includes optional claimers since the vast majority of entrants in optional claimers are racing for the allowance condition), stakes races, and all turf races.

I did this because one track may have a significant edge in one category, and that edge could be completely hidden if its horses did not do well in another.

I found the results to be surprising on several different levels.

Whether fair or not, racing fans generally regard the current Hollywood meet to be inferior in quality to the winter and Oak Tree meets at Santa Anita, and probably below Del Mar as well. Yet, Hollywood right now boasts faster and better horses in four of the five categories, and finished only one-tenth of a Beyer point behind Churchill for a dead heat for first in the stakes category. Allowance horses at Hollywood own a substantial edge over their counterparts at Churchill and Belmont, an edge so large that it probably doesn't matter that only 10 percent of the total races through the period at Hollywood were allowance races, compared to 23 percent at Belmont and 21 percent at Churchill.

Maybe the strong showing of Hollywood is a surprise because they card so many maiden races there. During the period studied, 33 percent of the races carded at Hollywood were maiden races compared with 27 percent at Churchill and 23 percent at Belmont. That is a lot of maiden races, which probably feeds the inaccurate perception that the current meet at Hollywood is not that strong.

Conversely, the perception that Belmont's meet is strong may be due to the fact that through the period, it carded so few claiming races. Only 16 percent of the races at Belmont were claimers, as compared to 32 percent at Churchill and 24 percent at Hollywood.

These differences in percentages of categories of races actually led to Belmont narrowly edging Hollywood in total winning Beyer average, 84.3 to 84.2, with Churchill coming in at 81. But, this is more of a statistical anomaly that is not nearly as revealing as breaking the numbers down. And this should not obscure the weak showing of the horses at Belmont, which also came as a surprise.

Even though this period at Belmont included the Belmont Stakes, and all the supporting stakes accompanying that race, Belmont didn't finish first in a single category, and finished last in three of the five categories.

So, hooray for Hollywood. Right now, it has the best racing in the country.

AVERAGE BEYERS

May 19 -June 15

BELCDHOL

Maiden71.671.174.2

Claiming80.376.181

Allowance9292.898.9

Stakes99.2100.2100.1

Turf86.688.790.9