11/12/2007 12:00AM

Big names to bet against

EmailA scarcely remarked aspect of the Breeders' Cup concerns the impact the championship races impose on the remainder of the fall schedule. The carryover effect can be enormous, as when the undistinguished Crossing the Line made mincemeat of heavily favored After Market in the Grade 2 Del Mar Mile on Aug. 19 and his connections announced the winner would not be supplemented to the BC Mile.

The announcement proved disheartening for a moment, as Crossing the Line would have been double-digit odds in the Mile, one of the day's ripest overlays. On second thought, however, it occurred the game had not been lost entirely, as Crossing the Line no doubt can now return in Hollywood Park's Grade 1 Citation Handicap at 1 1/16 miles on the turf on the day after Thanksgiving.

As events proceeded, After Market had to be scratched at Monmouth Park because of the soft turf he cannot navigate. That meant After Market will return in the Nov. 23-25 Hollywood Park Turf Festival, where he will likely be dominated again by Crossing the Line, who will no longer be a double-digit overlay, but an overlay nonetheless.

No one should doubt Crossing the Line is the stronger closer. His upset at Del Mar was nothing short of the most dominant performance on the turf in Southern California this year.

The Grade 1 Matriarch, a $500,000 turf mile on Nov. 25, also likely will be won by a filly who also skipped the Breeders' Cup. Hours after Vacare had won Keeneland's Grade 2 First Lady in October in a splendid showing, her connections announced she would not be running in the BC Filly and Mare Turf. Vacare would be pointed instead to the Matriarch. That was music to my ears.

While Vacare can be expected to run well in the Matriarch, Nashoba's Key looks like a bet-against wherever she runs next, perhaps in the the Sunshine Millions in January.

Good horses that win or finish close on a soft-to-heavy turf, where the Daily Racing Form track variant has exceeded 30 lengths below the track record for the past three years, are unlikely to win if they return within six to eight weeks. The soft turf just extracts too much energy from the combatants. Even top horses do not bounce back easily.

Following a trapped trip on the worst part of the Monmouth grass, Nashoba's Key finished fourth while all-out in the Filly and Mare Turf, beaten two lengths by Lahudood. The Daily Racing Form track variant of Oct. 27 on the Monmouth turf was 42. The turf was soggy soft. Handicappers should be prepared to bet against Nashoba's Key when she returns.

A similar but trickier logic applies to the $500,000 Hollywood Derby on Nov. 25, the third leg of the turf festival there. At first glance, Nobiz Like Shobiz shines like a standout. The only American-based 3-year-old in the BC Mile will be back against a lower order of turf runners his own age. Nobiz Like Shobiz lost to the older Kip Deville by two lengths plus a neck. Nobiz Like Shobiz finished on the soft course in 25.20 seconds. He held fourth following a huge midrace move around the far turn. It was a good, gallant effort.

Did the race take too much out of Nobiz Like Shobiz? The Wood Memorial winner, he was badly beaten in the Kentucky Derby and next finished a well-beaten second to Any Given Saturday in Belmont Park's Grade 2 Dwyer. But after that he delivered three impressively improving performances on the grass, winning a Grade 3 and a pair of Grade 2 events. Best of all, his final fractions improved in each successive turf route, all at nine furlongs: 35.40, 35.20, and 34.80. It's a desirable pattern. Nobiz Like Shobiz beat 3-year-olds in the three turf routes, but the third performance was especially convincing, a four-length romp going away. In all three, Nobiz Liked Shobiz went favored.

If Nobiz Like Shobiz runs in the Hollywood Derby, he deserves to be favored again, but does he deserve to be bet? Probably not, as the odds will be miserly, and the colt may not bounce back energetically from the arduous exertion on the soft Monmouth turf. Trainer Barclay Tagg may settle the matter by deciding not to ship to Hollywood Park, but handicappers should hope he shows. The alternative will be Nobiz Like Shobiz having the fastest final fractions on a firm turf. The Hollywood Park turf is excessively firm. Sub-24 final fractions are common at a mile.

In the immediate aftermath of the BC program, a handicapping colleague asked whether I intended to persist in the habit of betting against all BC winners next time, regardless of time away or the fields where they reappear. My colleague suggested the performances of War Pass, Midnight Lute, English Channel, and Curlin had been especially convincing.

I thought immediately of Bob Baffert's intention to run Midnight Lute in Aqueduct's Grade 1 Cigar Mile on Nov. 24, the Saturday following Thanksgiving and the same weekend as Hollywood's Turf Festival. Midnight Lute looked like the Horse-Monster rambling down the Monmouth stretch, and Baffert's post-race comments that the colt was one of his five best and maybe his best ever rang unusually true. His was a remarkable performance, earning Trevor Denman's selective observation that Midnight Lute looked like he had just jumped in at the eighth pole.

Baffert is more candid in his public comments than most horsemen and he knows horses better than most horsemen, so the lightly raced Midnight Lute - Baffert no doubt knew what he had and saw no reason to prep Midnight Lute in Belmont's Grade 1 Vosburgh or Oak Tree's Grade 1 Ancient Title - and the Sprint champ will be hard to deny in Aqueduct's one-turn Cigar Mile. Nonetheless, the gospel rule holds: All BC winners must be expected to lose next time. Besides, the odds on Midnight Lute will not allow a bet to win.

On the same Saturday as the Hollywood Turf Festival and the Cigar Mile will be Laurel's Fall Festival of Racing and the Grade 1, $250,000 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash at six furlongs. Now the horses to beat will be any exiting the BC Sprint and finishing in the top half of the field. Leading contenders would include the 3-year-old Idiot Proof, Talent Search, Benny the Bull, and Kelly's Landing, and Kelly's Landing needed the BC race badly following a layoff since March 31.

Another interesting possibility at seductive odds in the Laurel sprint would be the Bill Mott-trained Forefathers, a 3-year-old who had run exceptionally fast in his two prior races, but refused to perform in the Monmouth slop. If Mott decides to return at Laurel, handicappers best not ignore Forefathers.

Finally, if Steve Asmussen decides to return Juvenile runner-up Pyro either in Aqueduct's Grade 2 Remsen Stakes on Nov. 24 or Hollywood Park's CashCall Futurity on Dec. 22, handicappers will have been handed a pre-Christmas present. War Pass is done for the season, and the 113 Beyer Speed Figure he recorded registers as off the scale for the 2-year-olds of October. Pyro was fractious in the gate, checked early on the first turn, and suffered a horrible trip. He finished fastest, 12 lengths up on the third finisher.

Not least of the Breeders' Cup's many charms every year will be the horses to watch and the horses to beat in its months long aftermath.