10/09/2001 11:00PM

Keeneland's not as speed-biased as you may think


Lexington, Ky. - When an unexpected winner leads throughout a race at Keeneland, many handicappers attribute it to the track. The thinking is that it's a speed-biased surface that propels front-runners to victories that wouldn't happen elsewhere.

Maybe in past meets that was accurate, but not based on evidence from opening week of the current meeting

Yes, Miss Linda stunned observers by winning the Grade 1 Spinster on the front end at 21-1. And Siphonic won the Breeders' Futurity wire to wire.

But two horses in the first three days of the meet also rallied from last to win, and another winner rallied from second-last. Overall, only four of the first 20 main-track winners led at the first call.

It so happened that two of the four winners were in graded stakes.

As a rule of thumb, the early leader in dirt races wins about a third of the time. So considering the limited sample of races this past week, one would have expected about six or seven horses to lead throughout.

That's not to say that speed was dead. It wasn't. Like at every track in the country, speed was an asset at Keeneland when the early fractions were reasonable.

This was evidenced by the fact that six horses won after racing in a close second early.

Speed alone wasn't enough. Snow Ridge went off favored in the Phoenix Breeders' Cup, and faded to last after being pressed into quick splits.

What won at Keeneland this past week was not speed, or a closing punch.

It was class and circumstances. Good horses that received favorable trips were successful.

Was it stunning to see Miss Linda take the Spinster off a neck allowance victory? Yes. But to suggest she had it handed to her because she raced at Keeneland would not be accurate.

The track was fair. Miss Linda won because she was unchallenged for much of the race, and because she is a quality horse.

I underestimated her in the Spinster. I won't do that next time, simply because her front-running victory came at Keeneland.

It also bears mentioning how fast Miss Linda ran in the Spinster. Her time of 1:49.79 was deceptively quick on a track that played much slower than usual.

Although a bounce candidate off her career-best performance, she shouldn't be discounted if she returns in the Breeders' Cup Distaff. The price will be right, making the risk of a bounce easier to accept. Plus, there will be many handicappers who will toss her simply because she was a speed horse who won at Keeneland.

Runner-up Starrer and third-place finisher Printemps also merit consideration in their next races. Both are classy runners with bright futures.

Conversely, horses exiting the Grade 2 Alcibiades may be ones to avoid in the Juvenile Fillies. The race was weak on paper, and the performances on the track suggest that these fillies won't get involved against You and other top 2-year-old fillies.

Take Charge Lady, the winner, covered 1 1/16 miles in 1:46.23. It took her more than seven seconds to run the final sixteenth, and surprisingly no one could run her down.

These fillies were dog tired, which doesn't bode well for their chances of outrunning the leaders of the division.

Siphonic, on the other hand, does appear loaded with talent. A seven-length winner of the Breeders' Futurity, he could develop into any kind.

Is he in the league of Officer? Probably not. No one seems to be. But with Officer likely starting at about 2-5 in the Juvenile, the odds on Siphonic and other runners may be inflated. If so, he warrants consideration, if only from the perspective of value.