03/08/2009 11:00PM

Einstein's rise raises some questions

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NEW YORK - As a result of his determined victory in Saturday's Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap, Einstein is now arguably the top older male in the nation. But with such status comes increased scrutiny. And with Einstein, the questions demanding answers are fairly obvious:

Is Einstein the unusual example of a horse who realized his full potential late in his racing life, at 6 and 7, ages when most entire males already have a few years of stud duty under their belts?

Or, is Einstein simply in the right place at the right time?

There is no doubt that Einstein accomplished far more in 2008 and 2009 than in his first three racing campaigns, which were all abbreviated to some extent. After managing only a maiden win at 3 in 2005, Einstein had just one big win at 4, in the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup Stakes, which happened to be his stakes debut and which that year was run at 1 7/16 miles. Einstein had but one big win at 5 in 2007, in the Grade 2 Mervin Muniz Jr. Handicap.

But in a full campaign last year, Einstein won the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Turf Stakes and the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic. He also suggested for the first time that he could be dangerous on dirt in other than off-the-turf situations with his second to two-time Horse of the Year Curlin in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap. Sure enough, he later won the Grade 2 Clark Handicap on dirt, becoming the first to beat Commentator when that highly talented gelding owned an unchallenged early lead.

On the other hand, Einstein doesn't neatly fit the profile of a horse who improved substantially with age because his form over the last 13 months or so, as measured by Beyer Speed Figures, isn't any different from his earlier form. In 2006 and 2007, Einstein proved capable of operating in the 102 to 105 Beyer range. He's still operating in the same range. His best Beyer last year, earned in the Woodford Reserve, was a 105. He got a 101 winning the Clark and a 100 Beyer for winning the Big Cap.

What this suggests - fairly strongly, in fact - is that while Einstein has managed to remain at essentially the same level of effectiveness, which is to his credit, the horses around him have gotten worse.

That, however, should not stop anyone from appreciating Einstein for what he is - an uncommonly versatile and determined horse. Already a multiple Grade 1 winner on turf - and on firm, good, and yielding footing, at that - and a Grade 2 winner on dirt, the Big Cap made Einstein a Grade 1 winner on synthetic as well. And it shouldn't go without notice that Einstein's successful synthetic surface debut came over the same track and at the same distance as this year's Breeders' Cup Classic. This sort of versatility, while rare, should not be so surprising coming from Einstein, who is all heart, as evidenced by this statistic: Eleven times in his 24-start career, Einstein has reached the front in a race, whether in the early stages or in the stretch. He won 10 of those 11 races. That is pretty cool.

The big issue with Einstein in the Big Cap seemed to be whether he would handle Santa Anita's Pro-Ride surface. That he did should also have been no surprise. We all know by now that horses who like turf will probably also like synthetic. Have we forgotten Raven's Pass so quickly?

So if it's agreed that a horse who likes turf will probably like synthetic, then it stands to reason that a horse who had done all of his racing on synthetic tracks and had run well despite having an anti-turf, strong dirt pedigree would probably do well when switched to conventional dirt.

That was exactly the scenario involving I Want Revenge in Saturday's Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct. But even those who thought I Want Revenge would like dirt and believed the Southern California stakes he was coming out of were much stronger than the races anyone else in the Gotham was coming out of had to be surprised with what they saw. It would have been enough for I Want Revenge to master the previously undefeated favorite Mr. Fantasy, which he had done by upper stretch. But it was eye-opening to see I Want Revenge pour it on in the final furlong - and to see the 113 Beyer he was assigned. He ran strongly through the wire and won by 8 1/2 lengths; why would any of those who finished behind him want to try him again in next month's Wood Memorial?

The first inclination might be to take I Want Revenge's huge Gotham score as a big boost to Southern California 3-year-old form, and specifically the form of Pioneerof the Nile, who nosed I Want Revenge in the CashCall Futurity in December and who finished 1 1/2 lengths in front of the Gotham winner in last month's Robert Lewis. But different surfaces make such form projections tricky. Pioneerof the Nile, already one of California's top two Kentucky Derby hopefuls (The Pamplemousse is the other), might indeed be even better than advertised. Or Pioneerof the Nile might be a turf and synthetic horse who is better than I Want Revenge in California but could be lengths inferior to that same rival on dirt.