07/21/2009 11:00PM

Falling victim to trainers, riders, and horses

Email

PHILADELPHIA - As a true Beyer believer for three decades, I probably should be beyond speed figure revelations. This game, however, is constantly changing, and you better be able to adapt to survive.

If there is one mistake players make more often than any other, it is putting too much faith in the last-out Beyer Speed Figure without placing it into proper context. I plead guilty, but I am learning.

Imagine this scenario: A need-the-lead type gets outrun for the lead and/or gets caught in a speed duel. The horse begins to retreat and then gets beaten by 25 lengths.

In this simulcast era, with so much action, many of us (I plead guilty again) skim that result and dismiss the horse. This is related to the last-out Beyer, but the last-out beaten lengths also is among the most deceiving parts of a horse's past performances.

What happened at the end of one race often has little to do with what will happen in the next race. The shape of the race can change everything.

So what I try to do with a race is both simple and complex. What Beyer will win the race? Which horse, or horses, can do it under the most likely circumstances of the race?

Again, what happened in the last race might not matter. It could also matter more than anything else. That is where judgment comes in.

Horses run their best when they are comfortable. A post-position change might be the difference. Tactics could put a horse in better or worse position. The lack of speed among the group or tons of speed in it can change everything.

Of course, none of that will matter if the trainer, jockey, or horse does not cooperate. Two of last weekend's graded stakes were perfect examples of the issue and the problem.

What stood out about last Sunday's $1 million Delaware Handicap was an obvious lack of pace. When I looked at the race, I thought favorite Unbridled Belle had a clear tactical advantage. She wasn't a confirmed front-runner, but she had won the 2008 and 2009 Obeah Handicaps by going wire to wire. If she went to the front, there was no reason to think she wouldn't wire the Del Cap, a race she had won in 2007.

For the same reason I liked Unbridled Belle, I didn't like Icon Project. She looked to be at a tactical disadvantage, spotting a horse with comparable Beyer ability a clear lead.

Well, I was right and wrong. There was no pace, but Unbridled Belle showed no speed. Swift Temper, a mare with tactical speed, found herself loose on the lead in moderate fractions. She re-broke at the quarter pole and won easily at 7-1.

So, even when you have the right idea, you are still at the mercy of jockeys, trainers, and horses. I'm not sure why Unbridled Belle did not make the front, but she didn't and the most likely scenario changed in an instant.

The same thing happened in Saturday's Swaps Stakes at Hollywood Park. Grazen had won three straight by leading from the start. In the Affirmed Handicap, Grazen had survived pace pressure and easily held off the late run of Misremembered.

In the Swaps, 7-10 favorite Grazen was kept off the lead as 4-1 Misremembered cruised to the top in moderate fractions. Not surprisingly, the two horses switched positions from the Affirmed, with Misremembered winning and the chasing Grazen second.

Swift Temper (104 Beyer) and Misremembered (101) both earned career-best Beyers in their victories. So how would we know that before the fact? Sadly, we would not, unless we were smart enough to put those horses on the lead in moderate fractions where they were likely to run the races of their lives.

Given different sets of circumstances, I would suspect that both are to be bet against in their next starts. Unless you are absolutely sure they are getting to the front in slow fractions, you almost have to bet against them the next time. They are, in fact, the opposite of those horses that get beat by big margins under adverse circumstances. You will get bad prices on the winners, better prices on the losers.

And then there are the RIP (reputation induced phenomenon) horses. Last Saturday's Virginia Derby was the strangest bet race of the weekend.

Imagine a race like this. There are four horses with established grass form that took the first four positions in the prep race for a stakes and another horse that had never been on the grass but had won a slowly run graded stakes, finished second in another graded stakes of dubious quality, and then made a premature move in the Kentucky Derby before retreating to finish 12th. Furthermore, that horse had not run since the Derby.

The top four finishers in the prep were sent off at 7-2, 6-1, 9-1, and 11-1. The RIP horse, aka Hold Me Back, was 8-5. Keep in mind, this was a RIP horse with a questionable reputation.

The top four in the prep finished 1-2-4-3 in the race. Hold Me Back was fifth. RIP lives.