Updated on 09/16/2011 8:16AM

Mandy's Gold pays off, with one glitch

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LAS VEGAS - Sometimes, after you have made all your calculations, analyzed the speed figures, and consulted your trip notes, after you have tried to envision how a race will be run and what type of bet you might make - sometimes, after all this, it's a lowly subjective impression that makes all the difference. Such was the case with the Ruffian Handicap at Belmont Park last Saturday.

But the story begins two races earlier, in the seventh. On the previous night, my friend and noted horseplayer Paul Cornman reminded me of the very considerable merits of Package Store. So I checked my trip notes and, indeed, Package Store had had an abominable trip in his last start on the turf. There was only one problem: That race was three months ago, way back on June 12. Still, he had run a big Beyer of 97 with a difficult trip on May 25, and, if he could repeat a figure in that range, he would probably have only Youghal Bay to beat.

As post time approached I got up from my seat at The Palms in Las Vegas to bet Package Store. I also thought about playing some pick threes. But then I remembered that there was no pick three because the seventh race was the start of the guaranteed $500,000 pick four. As I was jotting down some numbers for the last three races, I noticed the unusually long lines in front of all the race book tellers - the kind of lines you see only at the sports book when the NFL is running. Unfortunately, this was not a sign of a revival of interest in racing, it was just that the betting machines had broken down. For those of you grumbling at racetracks around the country, and looking over the fence at the greener grass of the casinos, let this be a lesson to you: Racetracks are not quite as bad, and casinos are not quite as glorious as we all think.

So I was shut out. Of course, Package Store rallied strongly in the stretch after getting out of some traffic along the rail and caught the game, four-wide Youghal Bay in the last few strides. Package Store paid $9.70.

The exacta paid $36.80. Very nice.

Two races later came the Ruffian Handicap. Here's the field:

* You is a bit overrated but should certainly be more competitive at 1 1/16 miles than she was in the 1 1/4-mile Alabama. But her highest Beyer in 2002 was only a 101 at seven furlongs in the Test Stakes. She had a big reputation, jockey Jerry Bailey, trainer Bobby Frankel, and she was guaranteed to be overbet.

* Minister's Baby had improved her Beyers this year from 88 to 100 to 103, and then, most recently, from 82 to 105 to 109. She certainly had the potential to bounce badly from that huge new lifetime best.

* Raging Fever was more effective at shorter distances, and had run only a 101 at 1 1/16 miles. And after a two-month layoff, she had a hard time chasing a pair of dueling speed horses in the Ballerina at Saratoga, and had run a big, near-best Beyer of 104. In my mind, she was very questionable.

* Shine Again had an absolutely perfect trip last time out in the Ballerina, sitting behind that vicious duel. And her Beyers always declined whenever she stretched out beyond seven furlongs. In addition, her recent speed figures had progressed from 94 to 96 to 103 to 105. She looked like another candidate for regression.

* That left only Mandy's Gold in this group of five. She had been victimized in the Ballerina duel, but held on gamely at seven furlongs.

Her figure fell to 101, for two reasons: first, she had an extremely difficult trip battling in fractions of 21.80 and 44.00 seconds; and second, she had just put together back-to-back Beyers of 108 and 109, so a bounce was certainly not surprising.

I had no doubt that Mandy's Gold was the best horse in the Ruffian. I had watched her entire career develop.

She had always impressed me with her speed, her courage, and her determination. In March 2001 she left an indelible impression on me with her gutsy win in the Dame Mysterieuse at Gulfstream Park. That race was at seven furlongs, and Mandy's Gold was only a young three year old. In her next race she put in a bounce-and-win (although disqualified) in the Comely at Aqueduct. In that one-mile race her Beyer fell sharply to 91. Was the mile too far for her to run her best? Or was she simply reacting to her previous pattern of improving Beyers (92-98-102) and her draining effort in the Dame Mysterieuse one month earlier?

Clearly, Mandy's Gold had shown great courage and superior ability up to seven furlongs. But could she handle the Ruffian distance of 1 1/16 miles?

My impressions said that she could, but I certainly couldn't prove it. And if she got herself caught up in another speed duel, that would spell her doom at the longer distance. But one thing was sure: the price was right.

In a five-horse field of questionable, mostly overrated fillies and mares, Mandy's Gold was 8-1.

In the running of the Ruffian, jockey Jose Santos did something brilliant: He rated Mandy's Gold, swooped past the dueling You and Raging Fever, and drew off late. She paid $19.80.

Unfortunately, Santos does not always ride brilliantly. In fact, my relationship with the revived Santos has not been the most amicable since he inflicted some quite avoidable disasters and DQ's on me at Gulfstream Park this past winter. So I couldn't bet with conviction. Still, this victory for Mandy's Gold proved out my long-standing impression of her talent and courage. It could even be called a happy ending . . . until I saw the result of the pick four after the tenth race. It consisted of all logical horses, all horses that I would certainly have used. The pick four payoff was $2,044. Thank you, Palms betting machines.