Updated on 09/17/2011 10:40AM

Dynever may end up best of generation


ELMONT, N.Y. - Funny Cide has understandably been the cynosure of the racing world as he bids to win the Belmont Stakes and complete a sweep of the Triple Crown. But neither he, nor his archrival Empire Maker, nor any other 3-year-old in America this year has won races as impressively as the late-blooming colt Dynever.

By the end of the year, Dynever may be recognized as the best horse of his generation. He could develop into a champion on grass as well as dirt. Though it is uncertain if he is seasoned enough to defeat his tough, battle-tested rivals at Belmont Park, his presence adds an intriguing element to an already compelling attraction.

Dynever began his racing career Feb. 8 - too late for trainer Christophe Clement to point him for the Kentucky Derby or the Preakness. After finishing second in his debut, a sprint, he has won three distance races and displayed electrifying acceleration.

In his maiden win at Gulfstream Park, he had a two-length lead when he was about a sixteenth of a mile from the wire. Suddenly it seemed that jockey Edgar Prado had ignited the afterburners; at the finish line Dynever was in front by eight. Track announcer Vic Stauffer exclaimed: "He flew the last sixteenth. Holy moley!"

Dynever moved from maiden company into the Aventura Stakes, and turned into the stretch abreast of Supah Blitz, a solid stretch-runner. Supah Blitz looked as if he had the edge until Dynever shot away and made his rivals look as if they were all standing still.

In the $500,000 Lone Star Derby in Texas, Prado found himself in the midst of heavy traffic on the final turn and didn't have running room until he was an eighth of a mile from the wire. When he found an opening, Dynever delivered another explosive burst of speed and ran away from the field.

A racing fan can watch hundreds of races without seeing a horse make moves like Dynever. But might they be an illusion?

In all of his races the colt has been running away from inferior competition. Supah Blitz is as good as any horse Dynever has faced, and he came out of the Aventura Stakes to finish 13th in the Kentucky Derby.

The objective way to measure horses' performance is with speed figures. If a horse makes a dazzling visual impression but doesn't run fast, he is likely to be overrated. (Remember all the hype for Arazi after his eye-catching victory in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile?) Dynever has earned modest Beyer Speed Figures of 98, 101, and 94 in his three victories. He has been consistently slower than Funny Cide, whose last three figures are 114, 108 and 110.

Under most circumstances I would dismiss a horse like this as a no-fig phony and disdain the opinion of any bettor who made a case for him. But I believe Dynever is an exceptional case. He hasn't been asked to run in earnest for more than a furlong in any of his races. He has so much talent that he ought to earn big figures when the circumstances demand it. But will he do it in the Belmont?

Dynever may be at a disadvantage because of his inexperience. He has suffered from a slight foot bruise in the last week. His forte is his great acceleration, but horses with his running style rarely win the Belmont. (Horses with tractable speed - such as Funny Cide - have the edge at the 1 1/2-mile distance.) Dynever's style is better suited to grass races, which favor strong finishers; this is no surprise, since his pedigree is turf-oriented and Clement is renowned as a grass specialist.

Yet even though I recognize all of the pitfalls he faces, I must bet him to defeat Funny Cide. As a fan I would love to see Funny Cide make history, but I could never put my money on a short-priced favorite who has benefited from ideal set-ups to achieve his success.

Funny Cide won the Derby with the aid of a perfect trip over Empire Maker, whose training had been compromised by a foot injury. He won the Preakness in a field with only one credible opponent, Peace Rules - who gave a dismal effort.

Can Funny Cide win the Triple Crown? Certainly. He ran very fast in the Preakness. He has the speed and versatility to make his own breaks. But it is debatable if he is a better horse than Empire Maker (who toyed with him in the Wood Memorial Stakes), and I doubt that he has more talent than Dynever, either. Though he has the right running style for the Belmont, his pedigree suggests he may be less suited to the 1 1/2-mile Belmont distance than his two main rivals. It might be a fair assessment to say that he has a 1-in-3 chance of winning the Belmont. No amount of sentiment could justify taking even-money odds under these circumstances.

And I cannot resist taking odds of 5-1 or thereabouts on Dynever - in what could be the only race of his life where he will be such a big price. Betting him will also serve another purpose, since many readers have pleaded with me not to pick Funny Cide and thus put the kiss of death on his bid to make racing history.

(c) 2003 The Washington Post