06/13/2006 11:00PM

Knowledge is power, bias is not


PHILADELPHIA - So what was learned during this Triple Crown? Well, I learned that even when I find the Derby winner, it is still quite hard to separate 19 horses in the superfecta. I also learned that anything that happens at Keeneland stays at Keeneland.

If I had just been intelligent enough to put a line through the Blue Grass Stakes, I would have given no credence to Sinister Minister and ignored the distant fourth-place finish of Bluegrass Cat. And if I had done that, there is no chance I don't have the Derby superfecta. But I didn't and another lesson was learned. One of these years I am actually going to remember all the lessons at the same time and escape Louisville with more than a stomach full of lima beans from Pat's Steaks.

I also learned this lesson. Forget your biases. And just look at the numbers.

Before the Derby, I was pre-disposed not to like Bluegrass Cat. The colt has been ridiculously over-hyped after workman-like wins in the 2005 Nashua and Remsen. As a son of Storm Cat out of an A.P. Indy mare, the colt was the subject of many assumptions not based upon reality. The Beyer Speed Figures said this colt was not the Second Coming. They also said he was not a bum. He was a colt with ability, just not transcendent ability.

And when Bluegrass Cat was upset in the Tampa Bay Derby at 2-5, I figured I knew more about the horse than everybody else did. When he was crushed at 9-5 in the real Blue Grass, I forgot about him. Big, big mistake.

Trainer Todd Pletcher is only winning with 30 percent of his starters. Derby Week, he was winning with everything. He trains Bluegrass Cat. This did not seem to be a hard clue to find. I missed it.

To fill out my supers, I was looking for horses with high odds that could run a figure in the mid-90's. Throw out the 81 Bluegrass Cat got at Keeneland and his most recent figures were 99, 96, 95, and 96. And he was 30-1 in the Derby. Still, I didn't use him behind Barbaro because, in my mind, he was an over-hyped horse not nearly as good as he was supposed to be.

Often, we are our biggest enemies. Knowledge is good. Knowledge based on wrong-headed bias is bad, very bad, especially when that "over-hyped'" horse is 30-1 instead of 2-5.

In retrospect, Bluegrass Cat was taken out of his game when he chased Sinister Minister at Keeneland. Allowed to relax a bit off the pace in the Derby, Bluegrass Cat came with essentially the same race he had been running all along, finishing a distant second to Barbaro and getting a 101 Beyer.

Instead of handicapping Bluegrass Cat on his merits, I put a mental line through him. When you are trying to narrow 19 down to a manageable number of horses, you often find reasons to eliminate based on what you think than rather what you know.

Poor thinking sent me away from Bluegrass Cat. I knew the figures. I thought I knew the horse. When in doubt, always go with the figures. They don't think. They just are.

Bluegrass Cat was his usual solid self in the Belmont Stakes. He got a 100 Beyer when second to Jazil. I was so wrong about the Belmont it would be embarrassing if it wasn't so ridiculous. When your exacta horse beats only a horse that was eased, there really isn't much to analyze. There is no second-guessing. It is just a sign that I should go back to handicapping non-winners-of-two lifetime races at the Pha where I belong.

Well, I do get bragging rights for a year after picking Barbaro to win the Derby. I could even gloat and point back to the column I wrote in January telling everybody that Barbaro was a lock to win the Derby.

The reality is this. At the track, what you picked does not matter. What you know does not matter. What you think you know really does not matter. All that matters is the bottom line: Did you leave with more money than you came with?