07/03/2002 12:00AM

A good tip, but no big score


PHILADELPHIA - The longest day in racing had many hours to go. War Emblem was back in the barn, still very much anonymous. A full field of 2-year-olds was about to enter the gate for the Three Chimneys Juvenile.

Trying to distinguish the form of the young horses seemed difficult to me. The bettors at Churchill Downs and elsewhere had no such problem.

Even though it was a field of horses with terrific pedigrees and fast times in maiden victories, Posse, a romping winner in his debut, was bet down to 3-5. My good friend Andrew Beyer had gotten a strong push on a first-timer named Zavata who was 17-1.

The situation suddenly looked less complicated. Obviously, Posse must have talent. Those Kentucky bettors know things the rest of us do not know. And who can resist information on a firster that is 17-1?

So, I boxed the exacta. Posse ran really well. Zavata ran better. A Wayne Lukas-trained filly named Holiday Runner ran best and beat the boys. Zavata was second and Posse third. The 10 others were not close.

The winning Beyer was an 80 so this looked like it could be a pretty good bunch. It has turned out that they are better than good.

Zavata and Posse raced next on May 27. Zavata emerged at Belmont Park in a maiden race. Posse appeared in the $150,000 Kentucky Breeders' Cup Stakes at Churchill Downs. They both won with ease.

Zavata won by 5 1/2 lengths and got an 89 Beyer. Posse won by 3 1/2 and got an 85. The Three Chimneys was starting to look like a very nice race.

Holiday Runner re-appeared in the June 6 Fashion Stakes at Belmont Park. She won by a head and got an 80. Like many of the Lukas horses in Kentucky this spring, she had run like a wild horse at Churchill. She was not so awesome at Belmont Park. But she won.

Zavata was awesome in last Saturday's Tremont Stakes at Belmont Park. He absolutely buried the small field. Zavata's Beyer was 102, an amazing number for a 2-year-old in late June.

The Derby Day information on Zavata's talent was obviously very good. The bettors were right about Posse, too. That, unfortunately, was the day to make money on that information. And D. Wayne, as he has done for so long, spoiled the party.

Posse was 4-5 in his stakes win. Zavata was 1-5 when he won his maiden and 1-2 in the Tremont.

So, if there was no money to be made, what exactly is the point of this exercise? Simple. Pay attention.

You never know when you are going to find the next nice score or when it is going to find you. And you absolutely never know when you are going to see the next nice horse.

A few hours before the Derby, we all got to see three very nice young horses. And if Zavata's 102 is going to be the norm, perhaps there was at least one very, very nice young horse in that race.

Zavata is by Phone Trick so you would not think distance. But you would think fast. And, until proven otherwise, fast is always good in this game.