10/28/2007 11:00PM

New York preps led to nine BC wins

EmailNEW YORK - Looking back on the Breeders' Cup at Monmouth Park, which had to eclipse the 1988 Breeders' Cup at Churchill Downs as the wettest ever, one of the most interesting things about it was how many races were won by horses who had their last prep races in New York.

Nine of the 11 Breeders' Cup race winners - Maryfield, Corinthian, Indian Blessing, War Pass, Lahudood, Midnight Lute, Ginger Punch, English Channel, and Curlin - made their last starts at either Belmont Park or Saratoga. This made for an imposing success rate for New York preps of 81.8 percent. And it should be noted that one of the other two Breeders' Cup winners at Monmouth, Mile winner Kip Deville, is New York-trained.

The only other past Breeders' Cups that were even remotely comparable in this regard were the 1993 edition, when 5 of 7 winners (71.4 percent) last prepped at Santa Anita; 2003, when 5 of 8 winners (one was a dead-heat winner - 62.5 percent) last prepped at Santa Anita; 1988, when 4 of 7 winners (57.1 percent) last prepped at Belmont; 1989, when 4 of 7 winners last prepped at Belmont; 1994, when 4 of 7 winners last prepped at Belmont; and 2005, when half of the eight winners last prepped at Belmont.

There is evidence that geographical considerations might have been at play here. The 1993 and 2003 Breeders' Cups, dominated by last-out Santa Anita runners, were run at Santa Anita. Likewise, the 2005 Cup was run at Belmont. The 1988, 1989 (Gulfstream), and 1994 (also at Churchill) Cups were run in the eastern half of the nation. And as we all know, Monmouth is just a short drive from Belmont Park.

But given how much the game has changed in just the last year with the proliferation of synthetic racing surfaces at major tracks, it is only natural to wonder if the success of last-out New York runners at Monmouth was owed to something other than geographical factors. Did it illustrate in stark fashion the dramatic difference between racing on conventional dirt and racing on synthetic surfaces? Every one of the seven Breeders' Cup races not run on turf was won by a horse who last raced on conventional dirt surfaces at either Belmont or Saratoga. And Monmouth, of course, also has a conventional dirt track.

Perhaps this alone might be the explanation for why horses who last prepped in New York won in this Breeders' Cup, while horses who last prepped on synthetic tracks at Keeneland and Southern California did not. But we don't yet know this to be fact, which is why next year's Breeders' Cup on the synthetic Cushion Track surface at Oak Tree at Santa Anita will be especially interesting. One might already anticipate that a bunch of next year's Breeders' Cup winners should be horses who last prepped on synthetic tracks. But if that doesn't prove to be the case, and horses who last raced in New York again win an inordinate amount of races, then we can look back at this Breeders' Cup as the moment when the debate began over whether synthetic-track racing, while probably safer for horses, is damaging to the overall quality of the sport.

Some other thoughts on this Breeders' Cup:

* It was easy to think after Midnight Lute followed Indian Blessing and War Pass to be the third winning favorite after just four Breeders' Cup races Saturday that this Cup was a chalk-fest, but that didn't turn out to be the case. They proved to be the only winning favorites from the 11 Cup races. The average win payoff for the 11 Cup races was $13.36, which was only the eighth-lowest in Cup history. And if you want to compare apples to apples, the average win payoff on Saturday's Cup races was $11.55, which would make it only the seventh-lowest in Cup history.

* She might not have won anyway, but that was a pretty awful trip the previously undefeated Nashoba's Key got in the Filly and Mare Turf. And if Hystericalady had found a way to prevail over Ginger Punch in the Distaff, Hystericalady would have had to be disqualified. She came in and really slammed Ginger Punch hard in midstretch.

* There's nothing you can do about the weather. That said, no one likes major races to be run on off footing like this Breeders' Cup had to be, because it provides a blanket excuse where many times one isn't warranted. But, there did seemed to be a lot of Breeders' Cup horses who truly looked like they were unable to handle the slop.

* There has been a lot of talk about adding another Breeders' Cup race in time for next year, and that's a good idea. A schedule of four Cup races on Friday and eight on Saturday feels right. And moving an established Breeders' Cup race from Saturday to Friday is also a good idea, as it will give Friday a little more of the pizazz that was lacking this past Friday, even in consideration of the bad weather. But whatever new race is blessed with the Breeders' Cup imprimatur, here's hoping that it isn't some silly novelty race like a turf sprint, or a marathon that takes five minutes to complete, or even a sprint for 2-year-olds. A one-mile race on turf for fillies and mares seems like a logical choice.

* Wow, Curlin is just a complete monster. I know that's stating the obvious, but I couldn't help myself.