10/28/2009 11:00PM

No local experience doesn't equal no shot


Much has been made over last year's Breeders' Cup and how it may have aided runners from Southern California, who are accustomed to synthetic footing, and Europe, who are accustomed to turf and seem to handle the surface switch.

That may be true, but to presume you can just draw a line through other runners is simplistic at best and foolhardy at worst. If Southern Californians love the track so much, why didn't they dominate the top spots in last year's races? And after watching last year's races, does anyone really think Zenyatta, Stardom Bound, and Midnight Lute weren't the best horses, whether those races were run on synthetic or on Huntington Drive out in front of the racetrack?

The most important aspect working against horses from other locales is a basic handicapping tenet: Having a race over the track where the Breeders' Cup is to be held is a distinct advantage. Let's face it, if you don't have to ship or go to a strange barn - if you get to sleep in your own bed - odds are, you're going to perform better.

But it still is not cut and dried. Ventura, winner of last year's Filly and Mare Sprint, had never run on the Santa Anita main track. Runner-up Indian Blessing had won her only previous start at Santa Anita earlier in the year, but five others in the race had previously run at Santa Anita with considerable success and were nowhere to be found in the Filly and Mare Sprint. The better horses carried the day.

The Juvenile Fillies was dominated by local Stardom Bound, yes, but the second-, third-, fifth-, sixth-, and seventh-place finishers were from the East Coast or Midwest. Fourth-place finisher Dave's Revenge was from Southern California, but her only previous start had come at Del Mar.

Zenyatta, of course, was dazzling in the Ladies' Classic, but the second-, third-, fourth-, and sixth-place finishers were East Coast invaders. In fact, runner-up Music Note is back for more this year and figures to be formidable, even if Zenyatta shows up.

This theme continued on the second day of the Breeders' Cup. Albertus Maximus won the Dirt Mile, confirming his third in the Grade 1 Goodwood over this track earlier in the meet. However, the second-, third-, and fourth-place finishers had never seen this main track. Southern Californians occupied the last four spots in this race.

The Juvenile confirmed previous Santa Anita form. The winner, Midshipman, and third-place finisher, Street Hero, had previously been the top-two finishers in the Grade 1 Norfolk. However, the runner-up in the Juvenile, Square Eddie, entered off races at Keeneland and in Europe, and the fourth- through seventh-place finishers came from outside Southern California.

One reason East Coast runners might not have done even better in the Juvenile is the best from that region weren't in the race. Vineyard Haven and Girolamo had been purchased by Godolphin and did not ship West. Interestingly, the horse who finished last of the 12 would be heard from again - Mine That Bird would later win the Kentucky Derby. Fifth-place finisher Pioneerof the Nile would win the Santa Anita Derby here and run second in the Kentucky Derby.

The Sprint was won by Midnight Lute, who is a Southern California horse but one who had never run on Santa Anita's synthetic track. He had been less than brilliant in three previous synthetic outings, recording a win, a fourth, and a 10th. Runner-up Fatal Bullet was a synthetic specialist, but it wasn't in Southern California - it was in Canada and the Midwest. Street Boss had been California's top sprinter all year, with 6 wins and 2 seconds in 8 starts, including multiple graded stakes wins, all on synthetic. He ran decently and finished third, but his local prowess or "advantage" did not get him over the top.

Finally, the Classic. It's been well-documented how the two big Euros, Raven's Pass and Henrythenavigator, thrived on the footing, and they did. But let's not forget these were two top-class horses who might have thrived on any surface. After all, other Euros such as Arcangues, Ibn Bey, Jolypha, Giant's Causeway, Sakhee, Sheikh Albadou, Arazi, and Dayjur did quite nicely on dirt, right?

Horses with Southern California synthetic experience finished third, fifth, and sixth in the Classic, hardly results that would smack you over the head saying you must have local knowledge to prevail.

Experience on a synthetic track in Southern California won't guarantee a win or even being in the mix. Local knowledge is an advantage no matter where the BC is held, whether it's on dirt or synthetic. But those pointing to six Southern California-based winners in the eight main-track races and decrying the synthetic as biased have oversimplified the issue. That should not cause you to rule out the likes of Music Note, Careless Jewel, Beautician, Summer Bird, Quality Road, and others from points east.

Remember, statistics are like bikinis - they show you a lot, but they don't show you everything.