10/30/2003 1:00AM

Mile on dirt an ideal Cup addition

Email

OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Now that all the reviews of Breeders' Cup Day have been filed by those who were up close and personal, here are some additional observations from 3,000 miles away:

The Cup card is just not complete without a one-mile dirt race. Think about it: Year in and year out, two of the most eagerly anticipated races in New York are the Metropolitan Handicap (better known as the Met Mile) and the Cigar Mile, because they bring together a fascinating mix of sprinters stretching out and routers turning back.

A Grade 1 mile is the most difficult race to win, because at a mile horses can run but they can't hide; there is no chance for a breather at any point. The successful miler blends sprint-quality speed along with considerable staying power, which is why they are so highly prized as stallion prospects. No less a figure than legendary horseman John Nerud, a driving force behind the creation of the Breeders' Cup, has long believed top-class milers make the best sires.

It just doesn't make sense to exclude dirt milers from Breeders' Cup Day, not when top-notch milers are what so many breeders and potential buyers are seeking. The lack of a mile dirt race is especially nonsensical when you consider that the connections of Breeders' Cup-bound turf mares have the option of running at eight furlongs in the Mile, 10 furlongs in the Filly and Mare Turf, or 12 furlongs in the Turf, while dirt horses are limited to the six-furlong Sprint or the 10-furlong Classic.

A dirt mile this year might have included these horses who were between a rock and a hard place in terms of their distance options: Congaree, winner of last year's Cigar Mile with a Beyer Figure of 120; Aldebaran, a multiple stakes winner at seven furlongs and a mile who had never run at six furlongs until the Sprint; Peace Rules, a speed horse whose running style is better-suited to dirt; Ghostzapper, the spectacular winner of the Vosburgh; Posse, the stretch-running colt who earned a Beyer of 111 winning the seven-furlong Riva Ridge; Najran, who equaled Dr. Fager's North American mile record winning the Westchester Handicap in May; and perhaps even the filly Lady Tak, winner of the seven-furlong Test in stakes-record time. Throw in a couple of European milers with suitable dirt pedigrees and you have the makings of a terrific race.

A typical racing card is nine races long, isn't it? Adding a ninth race - a dirt mile - is the missing link to a truly comprehensive Breeders' Cup card.

Two relevant insights in the aftermath of the Juvenile:

* Immediately after Cuvee backed up to finish last, a seasoned handicapper whom I respect offered this comment: "That race in Kentucky spoke volumes. It told you everything you needed to know about Cuvee."

The reference was to Cuvee's third-place finish in the Bashford Manor at 1-2, in which he was bumped at the break and steadied at the half-mile pole, and wound up beaten 6 1/2 lengths. Cuvee's four other races were all daylight victories setting or forcing the pace.

The moral: When a horse, particularly one at a short price, has failed to overcome adversity in the past, and appears to be facing a formidable challenge such as breaking from post 12 in its first start around two turns, handicappers should be highly skeptical.

* A few days later, a missive arrived from noted handicapping essayist Joe Colville, who pointed out a very powerful angle about Action This Day:

"Len Ragozin wrote in 'The Odds Must Be Crazy' that his biggest profit comes on horses making their third starts if they have improved in their second start. . . . James Quinn wrote in many of his books that he prefers horses that have improved workouts following improved races. . . . Horses that have improved second races, no matter how much they improved, demand our attention if they follow the improved races with the fastest workouts of their lives."

Colville goes on to point out that three stakes races for 2-year-olds this summer and fall were won by horses coming off maiden wins in their second start, followed by the fastest workouts of their lives: Silver Wagon in the Hopeful at 12-1; Eurosilver in the Lane's End Breeders' Futurity at 11-1; and Action This Day in the Juvenile at 26-1.

"You could suggest these were soft graded races that were won by horses coming off maiden wins . . .," Colville concluded, ". . .but in 1993 undefeated Brocco was trying to win the 2-year-old championship from Dehere when he was whipped by Valiant Nature, a third-time starter whose Beyer improved 31 points in his second start and was followed by a five-furlong workout in 59 seconds before he beat Brocco . . . Valiant Nature's Beyer improved another 28 points . . . He was 16-1."

Thanks, Joe. As usual, you're on to something virtually all of us had missed. Keep those cards and letters coming!