06/08/2009 12:00AM

Bias plays big role at Belmont


NEW YORK - Because of advancements in track maintenance and sensitivity on the part of track management, true track biases aren't seen nearly as much as they used to be. But when they do arise, real track biases for horseplayers can at the same time be a tremendous edge and maddeningly frustrating.

Bettors who have been there know that if you can correctly predict which horses will be in position to capitalize on a genuine track bias, it's the next best thing to having a license to print money. Yet these situations also can make you tear your hair out, mainly when unconscious jockeys who should have their mounts in position to capitalize on the bias don't because they inexplicably don't see what's going on. But no matter which way it works out for you, results of races run on biased surfaces should always be rendered inconclusive going forward.

This matters because Saturday's Belmont Stakes, and the six main-track races run before it at Belmont Park, including three stakes, were run on a biased surface. In fact, so were the last eight races run at Belmont on Friday.

This was not the fault of the New York Racing Association. While it's not outlandish to suggest that the NYRA on one of its biggest racing days of the year would want a track that would produce very fast times, which is what we got Saturday, it's crazy to suggest that the NYRA would want a track that would give some horses a big advantage and seriously compromise others. Instead, the blame lies with Mother Nature and the heavy rain she dumped on Belmont on Friday.

As the main track on Friday became a sea of slop, the inside two paths became absolute conveyor belts to the winner's circle. The winners of races 3 through 10 all raced on the two inside paths.

The rain stopped Friday night, and Belmont's main track, as it is known to do, dried out in remarkable fashion. But while the footing itself on Saturday was dramatically different than it was the day before, the inside bias was back in full force. All six main-track winners before the Belmont Stakes raced in the one or two path.

But it wasn't just where the winners came from, or in some cases who those winners were, that shouted track bias. It was also how over and over again horses who were positioned to make serious outside moves looked like they were running on a treadmill and wound up going nowhere.

The perfect illustration of this came in the main-track race immediately preceding the Belmont Stakes, the Grade 1 Acorn Stakes. The 13-1 Gabby's Golden Gal, who was beaten more than 29 lengths in the Kentucky Oaks after setting the early pace, looked on paper like easy prey for the 4-5 Justwhistledixie, winner of five straight, the last four stakes. But Gabby's Golden Gal, who was playable because of the bias, went right to the lead from the 2-hole liked she figured to, stayed near the inside, and never looked back. Justwhistledixie, meanwhile, stalked from close range in the three to four path, and though she managed second, was never a serious threat to win. They could have gone around the track three more times, and if they stayed in the same lanes, Justwhistledixie was never going by Gabby's Golden Gal.

These were the circumstances under which Belmont 141 was run. So what do we make of Summer Bird upsetting at 11-1, Dunkirk battling back to finish second, and Kentucky Derby hero Mine That Bird finishing third at 6-5?

Some might label Summer Bird, who was a logical price play in the Belmont off a sneaky good sixth in the Kentucky Derby while racing against another strong rail bias, a "bias-buster" in the Belmont for closing outside in the stretch. "Semi-bias buster" would be more accurate. Summer Bird did race on the rail for the first nine furlongs of the Belmont, and that was to his advantage. But it is to his credit that he collared and drew away from the leaders from the outside in the final furlong, for that was not a successful move in Belmont's previous 14 main-track races.

Although he wound up setting a strong pace, sending Dunkirk to the lead was an inspired ploy on the part of his connections, and keeping him inside shows they were cognizant of the bias. Many will be inclined to give Dunkirk extra credit for coming back to get the place after being passed by both Mine That Bird and Charitable Man in upperstretch. But without attempting to denigrate Dunkirk's courage, it helped greatly that he was running on what was by far the best part of the track.

And as for Mine That Bird, the good news is that he is clearly honest as the day is long. But the decision by his jockey, Calvin Borel, to not ride at Belmont before the Belmont Stakes during the week he spent in New York, which raised eyebrows at first, looks even more controversial now in light of the trip he gave the Derby winner.

All was well early as Borel let Mine That Bird drop back to last and angled him to the rail. But Mine That Bird was steered off the rail entering the backstretch, never to see it again. That was especially ironic considering the way the track was playing, and all the praise Borel got for his rail-skimming ride in the Derby. In fact, Mine That Bird was widest of all in the run down the backstretch while also being moved into much closer contact with the strong pace than he was in the Derby or Preakness. And then, it would be hard not to characterize Mine That Bird's strong four-wide move on the far turn as anything other than way premature, especially since moves like that rarely hold up at Belmont Park.