05/19/2008 12:00AM

Figures say it's a one-horse race


PHILADELPHIA - You can check out dozens of races without seeing a series of past performances where every Beyer Speed Figure compiled by one horse is better than any Beyer compiled by every other horse. That is the Preakness.

Big Brown's three main-track figures are 106, 106, and 109. Until Gayego got in at the last minute, there was not a single horse in the race that had any triple-digit Beyers.

Big Brown has won two Grade 1 races. The rest of the field has three graded stakes wins combined and no Grade 1 victories.

What looks like a mismatch on paper is exactly that. The relevant numbers fairly shout it.

Big Brown's Kentucky Derby figure (109) was upgraded several Beyer points because of the prevailing headwind down the stretch that appeared a few hours before the race. Big Brown had to run into that wind in the first quarter-mile and last quarter-mile. And anybody who watched the race knows Big Brown never had any cover as Kent Desormeaux kept the colt wide and out of trouble, riding as if he could not lose.

Beyer-wise, Big Brown's performance was just behind those of Derby winners Street Sense and Barbaro. Each of those horses got a 111 Beyer in the Derby.

All of this information will steer you right in the direction of a colt that is going to be, say 2-5. The 3-2 in the Florida Derby and 2-1 in the Kentucky Derby are long gone. The free space on top of exotics may still be in play, but there will be no more $1 bets in the superfecta pool that return nearly $30,000.

If the Derby field was the weakest in years, the Preakness field may be the weakest in decades. The competition was one of the major reasons Rick Dutrow was so confident before the Derby. The trainer may not be as confident of his colt's condition because of the two-week gap, but he certainly can't be concerned about the competition.

Three of the horses (Stevil, Yankee Bravo, and Icabad Crane) have never even hit 90 on the Beyer scale. Racecar Rhapsody, Riley Tucker, Stevil, and Kentucky Bear have combined for as many wins as Big Brown (4). Really, four horses with one victory each are in the Preakness.

"Let's not get Big Brown in the Hall of Fame a little too soon here," Kentucky Bear's trainer, Reade Baker, said.

I agree. But Big Brown will not need a Hall of Fame performance to win the Preakness.

Prior to the Derby, I had no idea Big Brown could sit sixth off a moderate pace, accelerate on the far turn, and take off in the stretch like the race just started. I really thought this was a speed/pace horse who would win his races with his speed. This was a dimension I am not sure anybody knew existed.

That said, I would not be surprised if the Preakness is a Florida Derby rerun where Big Brown takes the track from his rivals at the start and never looks back. This Preakness is missing many things. One of the most obvious is early speed. Only Giant Moon, Tres Borrachos, and Gayego could be considered front-runners, and none is that fast or a confirmed front-runner. This race is filled with plodders like Yankee Bravo, Stevil, Racecar Rhapsody, and Icabad Crane.

By the numbers, Gayego, with a pair of triple-digit Beyers, is the most logical "other" winner. Forget the colt's 17th-place finish in the Derby. He broke poorly and then was rank while stuck behind traffic in the run through the stretch the first time. Gayego figures to get a much more advantageous trip this time and should be much closer at the finish.

Big Brown certainly had a clean trip in the Derby, but I would not call it an easy trip. When the colt hit the finish line for the first time, I wondered aloud just what Desormeaux was thinking. I really thought he should have used the colt's speed to be closer to the front and closer to the rail. Instead, the jockey just let Big Brown settle into stride, showing no concern for ground lost or anything else.

It turned out Desormeaux felt what we could not see. And his feeling was just right. When he needed Big Brown, the colt was there.

"Every time I ask him, it's like leaving the starting gate again," Desormeaux said after the Derby.

Push-button acceleration is the most desirable attribute for a racehorse. As soon as Big Brown made that move on the far turn, I forgot about him because it was so obvious he was going to inhale anything in front of him. I scanned the back of the field to see if anything was coming. Nothing was moving.

And there were many more accomplished horses in the Derby than there are in the Preakness. Whenever Big Brown makes his move, and it very well may be earlier this time, I can't imagine there will be anything coming.

The Beyers say this is a one-horse race with a nearly full gate. The Beyers got it exactly right at Churchill Downs. I don't see any reason to think the Beyers won't have it exactly right at Pimlico, too.