07/10/2001 11:00PM

'Bounce' has worked its way into trainer-speak


COLUMBIA, Md. - More and more often these days you hear trainers talking speed figures. Take Michael Dickinson. After his brilliant 3-year-old filly Fleet Renee won big in the Ashland at Keeneland, he worried publicly about whether she would "bounce" in her next race, the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs.

Up to that point, Fleet Renee had improved her Beyer Speed Figures from 69 to 82 to 95 to 104. Dickinson concluded she was holding up well and wouldn't regress.

But Fleet Renee ran poorly in the Oaks, dropping to a Beyer of 89. So Dickinson gave her a seven-week layoff and brought her back in the Mother Goose on June 30 at Belmont Park. She responded powerfully, cruising to an effortless

5 1/2-length win, earning a figure of 104. While she did have a perfect stalking outside trip, she still established herself as leader of her division and should be one of the favorites in the Alabama at Saratoga next month.

If Dickinson was worried about Fleet Renee bouncing after the Ashland, what will he say about his newest turf star - Slew Valley? Coming off a Beyer of 96 in winning an optional claiming race at Delaware Park, Slew Valley jumped up to a huge figure of 113 in losing a close decision to King Cugat in last weekend's Bowling Green Handicap.

The winner's figure of 114 was eye-catching, indeed. In fact, it's the biggest Beyer on the grass since the great Daylami blasted his opposition with a 118 in the 1999 Breeders' Cup Turf. How will Slew Valley respond in the Sword Dancer, his next scheduled start? A big bounce is certainly a strong possibility.

Considering the championship quality of King Cugat's performance in the Bowling Green, the post-race comments of jockey Jerry Bailey and trainer Bill Mott sounded curiously subdued, even disappointed. According to Bailey, "His finish wasn't as strong as it had been at a mile and an eighth but that's what you get when you stretch them out."

Mott expressed his own reservations. "I don't know that Bailey was overly impressed with the race," Mott said, "although he thought he ran well. I know the horse pretty well; maybe he's only going to do what he has to. Bailey felt he was running on empty a little bit."

Very strange comments indeed after their horse trailed far behind a lone speed, made a big four-wide sweep around the far turn, and outgamed a rising Dickinson star, running the best turf number since Daylami.

In their public fretting about the Breeders' Cup Turf distance of 1 1/2 miles, I think Mott and Bailey are taking caution and reserve to an unusual extreme. Rather than pondering over King Cugat's potential limitations, perhaps they should worry more about him bouncing sky-high in his next start.

Of all the recent trainer comments about speed figures, perhaps the most remarkable came from Tim Tullock, trainer of the precocious 2-year-old Buster's Daydream. After he won his maiden at Pimlico with a very ordinary figure of 61, Buster's Daydream was dynamite in the Flash Stakes at Belmont, winning with a figure of 94 despite drifting out badly through the stretch. When he ran back just 22 days later in the Tremont, I bet against him enthusiastically. I thought he would surely bounce. And he did. He only ran an 84. But he won anyway.

After the Tremont, Tullock explained his figure-savvy approach: "This was a big test and he passed. He did what good horses do. He bounced today and he still won. He didn't come up to this race as sharp or as fresh as the last one. While he was good and he was healthy he didn't have that 'oomph,' but I still felt like good horses overcome that."

Since there's no way Tullock could have known Buster's Daydream's Beyer Speed Figure when he described the strategy of "bounce-and-win," his remarks demonstrate great sophistication - and an uncanny ability to predict the future, figurewise.

Finally, speaking of the future, trainer Bob Baffert was asked about the future of Point Given, which could include a Breeders' Cup showdown with the star of the British Isles, the 3-year-old colt, Galileo. When asked about Galileo, Baffert responded matter-of-factly: "He must be a good horse to do the things he's done."

The Timeform gurus have been contemplating just how good Galileo might be. For his recent romp in the Irish Derby at The Curragh the Timeform committee has decided on a rating of at least 130, and more likely a 131 or 132. That's an enormous rating for a 3-year-old, translating to a Beyer Figure in the 116 to 119 range - Daylami territory. But even Daylami never ran higher than 126 on the Timeform scale even as a 4-year-old, and only ran in the mid-130's in his 5-year-old campaign.

Giant's Causeway, in the summer of his 3-year-old season, was running only around 120 in mile races. Galileo has already run 10 points higher - and at 1 1/2 miles, which, according to his trainer, might not be his best distance!

Which raises an interesting question: Do Timeform ratings bounce like stateside speed figures?