10/24/2007 11:00PM

Convinced of a bias? Don't be so quick

EmailOCEANPORT, N.J. - Monmouth Park's main track is often referred to as a speed-favoring strip, and some handicappers may be shaping their Breeders' Cup opinions accordingly. That, however, could turn out to be a costly mistake.

The 2007 Monmouth meet ended on Sept. 2, earlier than usual as Breeders' Cup preparations took precedence over four weeks of live racing. Horsemen, for their part, have found that the main track over the past few weeks has been similar to the strip over which they raced this season - an entirely new surface that was part of an upgrade for the Breeders' Cup. While the track favored speed many times, it was hardly a paved highway carrying pacesetters to runaway scores every day.

"To me, if anything, it's a better surface now than it was during the meet," said Eddie Plesa Jr., trainer of Gottcha Gold, a two-time stakes winner this summer who was entered in Friday's inaugural running of the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile.

"It seems like a fresher racetrack," Plesa said. "It could be for any number of reasons: maybe because we're not racing on it, maybe because there's not that much training on it, maybe they've been putting more water on it. Whatever the reason, I'm pleased with it."

Trainer Jim Ryerson, who won 14 races at Monmouth this season, said the meet was a tale of two strips, with the nature of the track changing after the track's marquee race, the Haskell Invitational, in early August.

"The track was real fast and speed-favoring for most of the meet, up until the Haskell," Ryerson said. "Then it seemed like it was a little slower for the rest of the meet and not as speed-favoring."

Ryerson had Park Avenue Ball in the Dirt Mile on Friday. He noted that there hasn't been much rain over the past month or so, and the track has remained consistent over that time. Last Friday, significant rain fell for the first time in a while. The storm had been forecast, however, and Monmouth's track superintendent, Bob Juliano, had his crew seal the track.

"It was pretty even, a little on the tight side," Ryerson said of the strip after the storm.

Since Labor Day, when live racing shifted to the Meadowlands, Juliano has nevertheless treated Monmouth as if live racing had not stopped there.

"We worked it quite a bit once the meet ended," said Juliano, "but right now we're at the point where we're doing the same things we'd usually do for the Haskell."

This year's Haskell Day featured a strong bias: It was tough to come from off the pace while wide. Breeders' Cup Classic hopeful Curlin tried it and failed, but he rebounded nicely to win the Jockey Club Gold Cup, a clue that his subpar effort in the Haskell may have been accounted for by the bias. The Haskell winner, Any Given Saturday, rode the rail for much of the race, then bounced off his career-high Beyer Speed Figure of 113, regressing to a 103 in winning the Brooklyn Handicap. A Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint contender, Oprah Winney, while much the best on paper in the Regret Stakes, also had the bias in her favor on Haskell Day. She controlled the pace on the inside and posted a lifetime-best Beyer Figure of 103 to win but put up a 92 in her next start, a win in the Schenectady.

So Monmouth's biggest day didn't do much to change the track's reputation as a speed-favoring strip. Nor did the severe speed bias encountered by Lawyer Ron in the Salvator Mile back on June 23, when he could manage only second at 1-9. But those days were simply not so plentiful this season over the new strip installed for the Cup, a warning to those who will look to blindly bet speed types this weekend.