11/02/2004 1:00AM

Breeders' Cup report card

Ghostzapper's 124 Beyer Speed Figure was the best number ever awarded in the Breeders' Cup Classic. Artax is the only other BC winner ever to run that fast.

LAS VEGAS - We had the usual stream of dubious speculation before this year's Breeders' Cup card.

We heard that Ouija Board would overwhelm her competition, and that Kitten's Joy could be the second coming of Theatrical and Manila. We heard that this year's 2-year-old fillies could be better at this stage than this year's 2-year-old colts, and that the 2004 Classic could well be the best ever. And we heard that Magistretti was training like he was much the worse for wear, and that Roses in May looked ready for a monster effort.

How accurate were all these forecasts? A review of the Beyer Speed Figures for this year's Breeders' Cup can help us sort it all out.

Above Average

Classic: A number of pundits pronounced this year's field the deepest and most talented in history. I was skeptical. But figures don't lie, and Ghostzapper's brilliant 124 Beyer proved the experts right once again. That 124 is more than seven points higher than the average of 116.64. It's the biggest figure ever run in the Classic - by far. Only Black Tie Affair (120 in 1991) and Skip Away (120 in 1997) had previously broken through the 120 barrier. One other Breeders' Cup winner has earned a figure as high as 124, Artax in the 1999 Sprint.

The workout experts were also right about Roses in May. He chased Ghostzapper around the track and held on gamely to earn a huge 119 Beyer - good enough to win nearly all other editions of the Classic. Perfect Drift and especially Pleasantly Perfect were hopelessly wide and couldn't get anywhere near the top two. But they still earned figures of 112 and 113, respectively. Even Azeri, sadly misplaced against killer males, matched her lifetime-best figure of 109 - although she did benefit from an absolutely perfect trip.

Juvenile Fillies: Sweet Catomine ran big. After losing a length or two while checking on the turn, she worked her way between horses and powered by her opposition in the stretch. Her Beyer of 102 was well above the 95.93 average for this race, and beat out the 98 earned by the 2-year-old colts. (Only Tempera, with a 107 in 2001, has ever run faster.) Sense of Style broke poorly but never had any run. Mona Lisa also broke slowly and was ridiculously wide under English jockey Jamie Spencer.

About average

Mile: Singletary's winning Beyer of 109 fell just short of the previous average of 111.43. He benefited from a clear trip chasing a moderate pace while not losing too much ground. Runner-up Antonius Pius had to wait for room on the turn, slipped through between horses, and closed very well despite veering in at the sixteenth pole. A number of others were seriously compromised by tough trips, especially the very wide Nothing to Lose, Mr O'Brien, and Blackdoun, who broke slowly, raced wide, and was bumped out to the seven- or eight-path at the top of the stretch.

Sprint: Speightstown took advantage of his beneficial inside position and came through on the rail to post a figure of 112, just a bit below the race average of 114.14. Kela ended up six or seven wide at the quarter pole and just couldn't get there. Bwana Charlie broke slowly and angled out to the seven-path at the top of the stretch, losing all chance.

Filly and Mare Turf: Ouija Board came through with the victory, but she was hardly dominant. Perhaps she was still feeling the effects of her hard race in the Arc just three weeks before, or the turf was not to her liking. But she sat a very good trip in a close-up stalking position in the two- path and only earned a figure of 108 - precisely the average figure for this race. If Wonder Again had drawn a better post position, she might very well have pulled off the upset. Although she eventually found the rail late on the backstretch, she had to close from far back following some ridiculously slow fractions and still fell less than two lengths short. Yesterday broke poorly and rushed up in the early stages, and Megahertz spent all three turns in the four-path.

Juvenile: The winning Beyer of 98 for the 2-year-old colts also matched the previous average of 98.38. Wilko showed good courage in fighting back to draw off by three-quarters of a length at the end. But the best performance here was clearly turned in by runner-up Afleet Alex. He broke a step slow and trailed the field early while three and four wide on the first turn. He moved up nicely on the backstretch and was hung out four wide through the entire far turn. He was clearly best. Roman Ruler, Proud Accolade, Consolidator, and Sun King had no excuses.

Turf: Better Talk Now surprised everyone with a winning speed figure of 111 - just short of the average 112.5. Kitten's Joy could not muster the explosiveness of his earlier efforts on the grass. Perhaps he bounced just a bit from his 114 in the Turf Classic. Special mention has to go to Powerscourt, who was victimized by the most absurd ride of the day. After his mount broke three lengths behind the field, Jamie Spencer asked Powerscourt to make a huge premature move on the backstretch. Not surprisingly, Powers-court ran out of petrol around midstretch, although he still held on for third, only one length behind second-place Kitten's Joy. Magistretti proved the pre-race workout pundits right once again, as he turned in a sluggish performance.

Below Average

Distaff: With the defection of Azeri to the Classic, the field for this race lost its one outstanding runner. This year's winner, Ashado, even after a perfect pocket-sitting trip, could only manage a Beyer Figure of 102, well below the average of 108.21 for previous winners of the Distaff. (Only Unbridled Elaine, with a 102 in 2001 and Adoration with a 101 in 2003, have ever run as slow.) Storm Flag Flying closed up the inside but couldn't make any impression on the winner. Island Fashion had an impossible trip, but faded pretty badly in the late stages. Stellar Jayne probably ran the best race of all. She broke a length slow from her far outside post position and raced three- and four-wide throughout. After moving up on the backstretch, she challenged the leaders on the turn, and held on gamely. She lost by only 1 1/2 lengths to the very fortunate Ashado.

All in all, the pre-race speculation turned out to be unusually prescient. In a day full of heroes (especially Sweet Catomine and Ghostzapper) and one glaring goat (Jamie Spencer), close attention to the pre-race chatter actually paid off.