08/22/2007 12:00AM

Gottcha Gold's odds key to gamble


PHILADELPHIA - When was the last time a horse with the top Beyer Speed Figure and a running style that suits the track went off at 15-1 and won like a 2-1 shot?

That was the deal Saturday in the Iselin Handicap at Monmouth Park. Gottcha Gold got a 108 Beyer when he went wire to wire and upset 1-10 Lawyer Ron in the Salvator Mile. The colt was 10-1 that day. Lawyer Ron came back to confirm the figure when he broke the 1 1/8-mile track record at Saratoga while winning the Whitney Handicap.

Still, Gottcha Gold was ignored in the Iselin at 15-1. The players must have considered several variables. Gottcha Gold won the Salvator with the aid of a huge bias. He went from a four-length lead at the eighth pole to a neck victory at the wire. The Iselin was another 220 yards. In his start prior to the Salvator, Gottcha Gold had given up a big lead in the stretch at 1o1/16 miles and finished second. In the Iselin, Gottcha Gold was not going to get an easy lead as confirmed front-runner Barcola was in the field.

The players went for two horses coming off bad races against good fields. Master Command was the 6-5 favorite, even though he got just an 88 Beyer when sixth in the Stephen Foster. But the horse had earned Beyers between 103 and 114 in his previous six races. Papi Chullo got some play, but was coming off a 95 Beyer when ninth in the Whitney.

So what to do? Do you take the horse with top figure even though you suspect that the figure, by far a career top, might have been phony because of the bias, especially when you are concerned that the horse could get swallowed in a speed duel? Or do you gamble that Gottcha Gold just improved, especially in light of Lawyer Ron's Whitney performance.

I think 15-1 was the key to the decision. No reason to take any chances at 6-5. At 15-1, you can gamble a little bit, especially when the favorites had issues, the track was still playing to speed on the rail, and Chuckie Lopez, one of the great front-running jockeys anywhere, was not going to ride scared on Gottcha Gold.

Gottcha Gold dueled with Barcola for six furlongs. Just when you figured they would both collapse, Barcola backed out and Gottcha Gold kept going, winning by 4 1/2 lengths. The bias at Monmouth Park may have carried the colt home in the Salvator. And it probably helped in the Iselin. But the winning figure told the story. Gottcha Gold got a 107 Beyer. The colt, in his 21st and 22nd lifetime starts, had simply gotten better.

Master Command made no impact and finished fourth. Papi Chullo was sixth. Barcola was so enervated by dueling with Gottcha Gold that he finished last.

As I watched the replay, I wondered how Lava Man would have done in the Iselin. When I watched the $5 million earner flounder on the Polytrack in the Pacific Classic, I was thinking Lava Man was running near the wrong ocean.

The Iselin was everything the Pacific Classic was not. Speed was rewarded, not inhibited. I don't know what is up with the Polytrack at Del Mar, but I do know a Grade 1 stakes with a time of 2:07.29 for a 1 1/4 miles is ridiculous.

Gottcha Gold could have been 50-1 at Del Mar and would not have been worth a bet. When Lava Man runs sixth against a very weak group of handicap horses, something is amiss.

Speed-biased tracks may not be fair, but at least they give the players a fair chance. If you can look at a race and figure out who is going to be where and how that might affect the outcome, you can bet with some confidence. It appears to be a bit more complicated than that at Del Mar these days.