01/09/2004 12:00AM

In this case, timer tells all


NEW YORK - There were plenty of record-setting numbers that emerged from Breeders' Cup Day last Oct. 25 at Santa Anita, such as $2.68 million (highest pick six payoff), 4 (most victories by a trainer), and 0 (the millimeters between High Chaparral and Johar at the wire of the Turf). The most intriguing one, as 3-year-olds start the 2004 racing season, may be 0.87.

That was the difference, in seconds, between the winning times posted by Halfbridled in the Juvenile Fillies (1:42.75) and Action This Day in the Juvenile (1:43.62). It was the third year in a row, and the seventh time in 20 years of Breeders' Cups, that the Juvenile Fillies was the faster race, but this was the widest discrepancy between the two, one that translates to a difference of slightly more than five lengths.

Both winners, likely recipients of Eclipse Awards later this month, are scheduled to return to action soon as the nominal leaders of their divisions. It seems like a good time to see what has happened in the past when the Juvenile Fillies winner ran faster than the colts.

In 1985, Twilight Ridge was timed in 1:35.80, .40 of a second faster than Tasso's 1:36.20. Twilight Ridge was a subsequent Grade 1 winner while none of the colts in that year's Juvenile was a factor in the 1986 classics, though runner-up Storm Cat later became the world's most expensive sire.

In 1986, Brave Raj's 1:43.20 was .60 faster than Capote's 1:43.80. While Capote was a disappointment thereafter, the ones who finished third through seventh behind him turned out to be a powerful bunch: Alysheba, Bet Twice, Gulch, Demons Begone, and Polish Navy.

The colts ran faster each subsequent year until 1992, when Eliza's 1:42.93 trumped Gilded Time's 1:43.43 by half a second. The unlucky Gilded Time missed the classics and the 12 he beat never amounted to much with the notable exception of seventh-place finisher Sea Hero, the next year's Derby and Travers winner.

In 1998, Silverbulletday's 1:43.68 was 0.32 faster than Answer Lively's 1:44 flat, and she continued to be the better racehorse the following year. Notable losers in that Juvenile who later improved a lot were third-place Cat Thief and fifth-place Lemon Drop Kid.

The current skein of faster fillies began in 2001, when Tempera's 1:41.49 was 0.78 faster than Johannesburg's 1:42.27. He never won again, while she finished second in two stakes in Dubai before dying in April of her 3-year-old season. The jury is still out on 2002: Storm Flag Flying's 1:49.60 was an eyelash quicker than Vindication's 1:49.61, but she has never been the same horse and he never raced again.

The basic failures of the seven Juvenile winners who were outfooted by Juvenile Fillies winners is a sobering prospect for anyone considering Action This Day at 10-1 in the Kentucky Derby future books. It looks bleaker the more you analyze his performance, because Action This Day benefited by rallying from last behind a brutally fast pace, setting up an optimal performance and time.

Another intriguing time discrepancy involving a Breeders' Cup winner occurred on opening day at Gulfstream. In the seventh race there Jan. 3, a 4-year-old colt named Buju, making his third career start and his first since last March, won a first-level allowance race in 1:08.95. Three races later, with no change in the weather or unusual track maintenance, Breeders' Cup Sprint winner Cajun Beat won the Mr. Prospector Handicap in a slower 1:09.06.

There were some extenuating factors. Buju got loose through a relatively slow half in 45.20, allowing him to scamper home alone in 23.75. Cajun Beat dueled through faster fractions and was visibly tired and drifting at the finish. Even so, the clockings were counterintuitive. Andrew Beyer treated the Buju race as a complete aberration relative to the rest of the card, awarding it a Beyer Speed Figure of just 93, 12 points lower than the 105 he gave Cajun Beat.

This was not entirely arbitrary. The rest of the card fit together reasonably well and Gulfstream has a long history of yielding the occasional wacky time. If you gave Buju the same winning triple-digit Beyer figure as Cajun Beat, the fully exposed runners-up in his race would have received impossibly high career-best numbers.

There were no such complications on Breeders' Cup Day. Halfbridled ran significantly faster than Action This Day even though the likely 2-year-old champion colt had a dream set-up. The one mitigating factor is that Action This Day was making only his third career start and thus is eligible to improve sharply. The clock says he will have to.