11/01/2001 12:00AM

Big Sandy biased big-time on Cup Day


JAMAICA, N.Y. - By now everyone and his brother has offered their two cents' worth. Here then, one final time after all the dust has settled, are some observations about Belmont Park's main track and how it may or may not have rendered some of the Breeders' Cup results inconclusive.

Determining whether a track bias is in play can be risky business. Sometimes it is a very subjective thing. Seldom will analysts happen upon a day where all the races are won in a specific manner. Far more often there is a trend toward a particular running style or portion of the racetrack, or both. Assessing the strength of that trend could depend on a number of factors:

How did the horses under scrutiny run in relation to their on-paper form? For example, did favorites perform worse than expected, or did longshots seemingly outrun their odds?

What happened at the start? Were horses on some part of the track consistently breaking faster or slower?

Are the most alert bias-conscious riders making a noticeable effort to put their mounts in the same place each time?

Have there been any unusual weather patterns?

How did the horses supposedly helped or hindered by the bias perform when they raced back?

Specifically, one thing to understand about Belmont (a.k.a "Big Sandy") is that it's massive size and composition make it naturally susceptible to a deep rail. There is quite a lot of sand out there. So when a stiff northerly wind is in play, as was the case last Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, it blows the looser top layer toward the inside rail of that huge far turn.

And because there was no appreciable rainfall through the entire month of October (the last time a racetrack on this circuit has been anything except "fast" was back on Sept. 30), there was probably a considerable amount of "loose" dirt blown to the inside.

Belmont's fall meet ran 32 days. I tend toward conservatism when it comes to labeling a track because an error can really skew your subsequent analyses. Even so, I judged the outside paths to be the preferred way home on at least 12 of those days, and I am still on the fence regarding a few more. Perhaps it was more than coincidence that on eight of the 12 most noticeable dead-rail days, prevailing winds were similar to Breeders' Cup Day.

Consider also, that the "Track Trends" page in the Post Parade program - which is compiled by New York Racing Association observers - listed in Thursday's edition the final 29 racing days at Belmont, and judged the main track to favor the outside on no less than 16 of those days. Mind you, that's coming from the outfit that runs the joint!

The dozen days when I strongly suspected an outside bias included an entire racing week, Oct. 4-8, during which the Jockey Club Gold Cup card was run.

Naturally, there was some difference of opinion as to whether the rail was dead on Gold Cup Day. The most objective way to tell is to keep tabs on the alleged dead-rail horses when they race back; if a couple of them come right back to outrun their odds, it's likely that you're onto something.

At least three rail horses who finished out of the money on Oct. 6 have already come back to win so far, including Sumitas, who wired last Friday's Knickerbocker Handicap when switched back to the turf by Bobby Frankel.

Of course, 99 percent of the time all you have to go on is video replays and result charts. But since the Breeders' Cup races get intense media attention, the following narrative from the participants can also be factored into the decision. Here's what the jockeys, the ones who actually have to deal with the track, had to say.

David Flores, after scoring with five-wide Tempera at 11-1: "The outside really helped her today."

Gary Stevens, on Bella Bellucci: "I wanted to get to the outside, but I could never get her out."

Jerry Bailey (an ever-vigilant bias picker-upper) on Siphonic: "He stayed down on that dead rail. I was forced to stay there and couldn't move. I was trapped."

John Velazquez, on Include: "He never got a chance to get out. He was on the worst part of the track."

Sometimes it's unclear whether a bias was in play, but that doesn't appear to be the case when assessing the races from Oct. 27 at Belmont Park. A significant amount of evidence and testimony strongly indicates that horses running in the middle of the track had all the best of it.