10/14/2004 12:00AM

Evaluating stakes by simple addition


LEXINGTON, Ky. - There is a tendency for horseplayers to become biased by races they see firsthand. This is in part why many people bet horses from their home state when these runners compete in Breeders' Cup races, which draw horses from all over the world.

State pride is partially responsible for this, and also because horseplayers think like baseball scouts. Forget what the averages say - they believe that they can spot talent, merely by witnessing the action, thereby giving them an edge.

What typically happens, though, is that these regional horses cause a bettor to overlook potentially more suitable runners in the Breeders' Cup.

Rather than be biased by the races I witnessed last weekend at Keeneland, I decided to look back on the Breeders' Cup preps from this month, seeking to quantify them in a way that would not allow for bias on my part.

I began by assigning a point value for every horse in these preps, based on how horses acquire Breeders' Cup points. For those unfamiliar with that system, which is used to qualify horses for oversubscribed Breeders' Cup races, horses earn points based on top-three finishes in graded stakes. Winners earn the most, third-place finishers the fewest.

Point allocations of 10, 6, and 4 are earned by finishing among the top three in Grade 1 races in 2004. Horses earn 6, 4, or 2 points in Grade 2 races, and 4, 2, and 1 points in Grade 3 races.

A horse who has run 10 times this year, with one Grade 1 win, a second in Grade 2, and a third in a Grade 3, would have 15 points (10 for the Grade 1, 4 for the Grade 2, and 1 for the Grade 3).

Wanting to respect quality foreign shippers, in a deviation from the Breeders' Cup system, I allowed foreign horses to earn points on this scale from group races overseas, provided they did so racing in Dubai, Britain, Ireland, or France. Wins or placings from graded races from Canada were not counted - except the Grade 1 Atto Mile, a rich prep for the Breeders' Cup Mile.

Once I had the points for each horse heading into the preps, I totaled them (not counting any points earned that day). By totaling the numbers, this rewarded deep fields, and penalized races with a limited number of entries.

Certain races were better than I thought. Others were worse, much worse - such as the Grade 2 Norfolk form Santa Anita Oct. 3.

The winner of that race, Roman Ruler, is a quality horse and a contender for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. But he beat only three opponents in the Norfolk. Total points for the race: 10. Total points of those Roman Ruler defeated: 0.

The other 2-year-old preps this month, the Grade 1 Champagne and the Grade 1 Lane's End Breeders' Futurity, had more depth and quality. The point total for each race was 28 and 22.5, respectively. (A dead heat for second in a Grade 3 race caused the half-point in the Breeders' Futurity total.)

Other divisions brought surprising returns. The last three major preps for 2-year-old fillies ranked this way: The Darley Alcibiades (32), the Oak Leaf (15), and the Frizette (12).

Without getting bogged down in the numbers for every Breeders' Cup prep run this October, here is a summary of the top races. The Jockey Club Gold Cup ranked the highest of the preps for the Classic; the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic was the top point-getter for the Turf; the Shadwell Turf Mile far outranked the Kelso and Oak Tree Breeders' Cup for the Mile; the Beldame ranked best of the preps for the Distaff; and the Flower Bowl and Ancient Title Breeders' Cup had the highest totals leading up to the Filly and Mare Turf and Sprint, respectively.

Admittedly, there are faults to tabulating points in this manner. These numbers are based on grades, which are compiled by a committee on the basis of what happened in a race in previous years, not in the current year.

These numbers also do not take into account what the horses did before 2004, or how many starts they made in 2004. It rewards races that attract horses who run a lot, particularly 3-year-olds, who benefited from running in their age group for the better part of 2004.

But those are small issues, at least in my mind, leading me to believe that based on this data New York-based horses hold the edge in most races heading in the Breeders Cup this year. I will favor them in my selections when the Breeders' Cup rolls around in two weeks at Lone Star, while also supporting Shadwell and Alcibiades runners from Keeneland, and Ancient Title sprinters from California.