11/04/2005 12:00AM

Greatness still within Lost in the Fog's grasp

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Lost in the Fog's Breeders' Cup Sprint debacle does not mean his story is over.

PHOENIX - Lost in the Fog's defeat in the Breeders' Cup Sprint has brought about an interesting mix of disappointment and glee you don't often see in this game. I have no agenda or rooting interest here - my interest is purely sporting. And so while Lost in the Fog's defeat showed he's not yet Phone Trick or Groovy or Housebuster, the operative word is "yet."

Housebuster, for example, also had doubters. A truly great sprinter, Housebuster lost his debut in the Meadowlands slop in October 1998 before rattling off eight straight victories, including the Grade 3 Hutcheson, Grade 3 Swale, Grade 3 Lafayette, Grade 3 Derby Trial, and Grade 2 Withers. The knock on Lost in the Fog is that he didn't beat much in his 10-for-10 record to start his career, and to me, that assessment doesn't seem far off the mark.

Housebuster, it could be said, had the same issue - save for one big difference. He defeated such rivals as Sacra Hoxen, Yonder, Fit Contender, Sunny Serve, and Stalker - hardly everyday names - but when he won the Swale by a length the horse right behind him was Summer Squall, who was a major 2-year-old and a couple months later would win the Preakness.

Lost in the Fog easily defeated older horses in the Bay Meadows Speed Handicap, but those weren't truly quality elders. So, you could say he lost the first time he faced top-flight older horses. So, too, did Housebuster, in the Grade 1 Met Mile, losing by a neck to eventual Horse of the Year Criminal Type while finishing 1 1/2 lengths ahead of Easy Goer.

Lost in the Fog's loss didn't come against that kind of quality. But his loss needs to be taken in stride - almost all of them lose sometime. The only exception in modern history is Personal Ensign.

Lost in the Fog deserves a ton of credit for turning in high-class performances nearly every time he has stepped on the track. He deserves credit for taking his show to a variety of tracks. It would have been easy for his connections to safely stay in northern California and beat up on overmatched local opposition time and again. Instead they took risks, and the horse delivered until possibly all those miles and the tougher competition got the better of him.

Lost in the Fog showed improvement during the year that can be seen in his Beyer Speed Figures. Early in the year, his Beyers ranged from 103 to 109. In the summer, he rattled off a 110, then a 116 in the Carry Back (winning under wraps), then a 114 in the Bay Meadows race, again winning geared down.

Lost in the Fog is going to get plenty of time to regroup. Trainer Greg Gilchrist handled him masterfully this year, and there's no reason to think that will change in 2006. Such big races as the Carter, Met Mile, Triple Bend, Bing Crosby, Forego, and BC Sprint are all options on the table for next year. And with time to recover, time to grow from a big boy into a man, Lost in the Fog could become in 2006 what so many wanted him to be in 2005 - a great horse.

Guess what? More top U.S. racing still to come

If you need evidence that the Breeders' Cup does not mark the end of high-class racing in the U.S. in the fall, look no further than the upcoming Grade 1 Cigar Mile at Aqueduct on Nov. 26. Saint Liam is gone and Lost in the Fog won't attempt to stretch his speed in the Cigar, but the prospects nonetheless are mouth-watering. The Cigar Mile may be a target for Afleet Alex, who can still snatch some Horse of the Year votes away from Saint Liam should he return and defeat older horses. Taste of Paradise may opt for that spot as well. He is apparently a new horse in New York, as his huge Vosburgh win and BC Sprint second-place finish showed. I know I'm not alone in thinking he was best in the BC Sprint last week.

Finally, there were those who thought Starcraft's connections were nuts to plunk down $800,000 to go in the BC Classic. But once you saw him making a sustained and comfortable run to the top of the lane in the Classic you knew that this was a quality horse who can handle dirt. The money might have ended up in Saint Liam's account, but based on his performance it wasn't foolishly spent. Dirt didn't beat Starcraft; the post and 1 1/4 miles beat him.

Starcraft's connections have said they may try for revenge in the Cigar Mile. Considering the way he handled the dirt, the way he moved to the far turn with ease, and the fact he already is a proven world-class miler, Starcraft would be eligible to be extremely scary come Nov. 26.

So, who says the U.S. racing season ends with the Breeders' Cup?