05/07/2003 12:00AM

Last-out Beyers nail Derby exacta

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PHILADELPHIA - If the Kentucky Derby had been only the 10th race at Churchill Downs and good players were giving cursory attention to the odds board in relation to the Beyer Speed Figures, the race would have been a slam-dunk. The Derby, of course, is never that easy. And that's our fault. We insist on complicating the issue.

Imagine this scenario. Three horses in a 16-horse field have run recent Beyers of 110 or better. No other horse in the race has ever earned a Beyer higher than 105.

Horse A (Empire Maker) just ran Beyers of 108 and 111. Horse B (Ten Most Wanted) just ran a 110. Horse C (Funny Cide) ran a 110 when a half-length behind Horse A in the Wood Memorial.

Horse A is 5-2. Horse B is 6-1. Horse C is 12-1.

Yes, Horse A got two big figures while B and C only got one. So you would assume that Horse A - Empire Maker - might have had twice as good a chance to win. But a half-length is really not much of a margin. Certainly, it's not 5-2 to 12-1 different.

Ten Most Wanted's big Beyer came out of the blue. I defended the Illinois Derby Beyer two weeks ago and I will defend it again. But that didn't mean Ten Most Wanted could not bounce. Clearly, he did.

Funny Cide was a slightly different case. He got a 99 in the Louisiana Derby and improved to that 110 in the Wood. But it wasn't as if he had never shown before the Wood the capability of earning a big Beyer. In his first two races last September, Funny Cide got a 96 and then a 103. The capability was there all along.

So, did I cash big? Of course not. I did not cash at all.

I saw the Wood. Empire Maker was clearly best. Even Barclay Tagg, Funny Cide's trainer, said he had to talk himself into believing Empire Maker's win really wasn't as easy as it looked.

When the ultra-consistent Peace Rules, Funny Cide, and Empire Maker were across the track at the top of the stretch, which was the most likely winner? I would contend it was Empire Maker. He was on the outside. He had the momentum. He figured to sweep right on by.

That it didn't happen could be the result of a dozen things. We can guess, but we will never really know. The best answer, probably, is the all-encompassing "that's horse racing."

Funny Cide earned a 108 in winning the Derby. Empire Maker dropped back to a 105. The amazing Peace Rules also got a 105.

A three-horse exacta box of the top Beyers returned $97. A trifecta with two of three figs and Peace Rules returned $664.80. And for those of you who still bet to win, you could have gotten $27.60 for a horse the Beyers suggested had a much better chance than 12-1 to win.

So the top of the Derby has a rational explanation.

What is harder to explain is Brancusi (101, 98) getting the lead before falling back through the field to finish last and earn a 77. Supah Blitz, my longshot superfecta under play, got an 83, his worst figure since last August.

Ten Cents a Shine got a 93 when he dead-heated with Senor Swinger in a Gulfstream Park allowance. Since then, he had 64-78-34 series. He got a 97 in the Derby.

As for Ten Most Wanted, he also got a 97 in the Derby, the second-best Beyer of his career. It was far off that 110, but not so bad as to suggest the horse has no talent at all. File this one away for the future.

And file away the Beyer box for the future as well. In recent years, the Beyers have been incredibly good Derby predictors. There just has been no easy formula on how to apply them and make money. I am working on that for next year.