10/30/2002 1:00AM

By the numbers, Cup held its own


It began with an impressive but perhaps bias-aided performance by the likely Horse of the Year, Azeri. It ended with an absurdly overwhelming victory by Volponi. These two races, along with the six others on Breeders' Cup Day, produced a solid string of Beyer Speed Figures that, for the most part, will hold up in comparison with past renewals.

Here's a Beyer-oriented review of those championship races:

Below Average: The only race which fell significantly below the average for past Breeders' Cups was the 1 1/2-mile Turf. There's no doubt that High Chaparral was a top European horse, but he was not in a class with recent superstar winners like Daylami and Fantastic Light - or Swain, Sakhee, and Giant's Causeway. Daylami and Fantastic Light ran Beyers of 118 and 117 winning the Breeders' Cup Turf. High Chaparral could manage only a 110 in a race that has averaged 112.67. Perhaps the slow pace hindered him, and he certainly proved his superiority over all his American challengers. Still, the race was subpar.

Average: The Beyer Figures for the Classic have been remarkably consistent over the years, varying in a narrow range from 114 to 120.

In the previous four years the figures were 116, 118, 117, and 116. Volponi ran right to that recent history, earning a 116, only .5 below the average. In the Sprint, which has averaged 113.67, Orientate ran a 114. And in the Mile, Domedriver earned a 112, only .17 above the average.

Above average: Azeri stands out here. The average for the Distaff has been 108.58, and Azeri ran a 111. That's an impressive figure, but it still does not approach the awesome 119 run by Inside Information in 1995. It also trails Jewel Princess (114 in 1996) and Bayakoa (113 in 1990). Starine also ran big. Although the Filly and Mare Turf has a very short history, Starine's 111 on the grass is far ahead of the average of 107.33. In the Juvenile, Vindication earned a very strong 102, well above the 98.64 average. Only Unbridled's Song ran faster - a 103 in 1995.

Well above average: Storm Flag Flying is the only winner in this category. In a race that has averaged 95.17, she ran a 102. The second-place finisher, Composure, also deserves special mention. Even her 101 ranked among the top two or three Beyers in the history of the Juvenile Fillies.

All in all, as measured by the Beyer Speed Figures, the performances on Breeders' Cup Day were solid, if not tremendously exciting.

Most of the Beyer figures of Saturday's winners had one interesting characteristic in common: Six of the eight winners ran lifetime bests. Only Orientate and High Chaparral fell short. (Considering his recent Timeform ratings of 127, 127, and 130, High Chaparral could have been expected to earn a Beyer somewhere in the 113-117 range.) On the other hand, the list of lifetime worsts - or, at least, recent career worsts - is long and star-studded. In the Sprint, for example, Swept Overboard ran a sluggish 97, Bonapaw ran an 87, and the speedy filly Carson Hollow was badly outrun and eased.

Xtra Heat, one of the most remarkable horses in recent memory, couldn't keep up with Thunderello's wicked pace and ran an even-paced 101. Consistent with her extraordinary record of courage and determination, she never gave up and held on to beat more than half the field.

In the Juvenile, Toccet bounced badly, as did the heavily bet Whywhywhy. Zavata collapsed and will surely next be seen back in sprints. But the prize for disappointing performances has to go to the Classic, where a litany of celebrity runners became so much flotsam floundering around in Volponi's wake. Medaglia d'Oro ran a mediocre race, holding on for second with a very weak Beyer of 106. Milwaukee Brew plodded along with little real acceleration to finish only a neck behind Medaglia d'Oro. Evening Attire bounced way down to a 102 from his recent pair of 113-114 Beyers. Macho Uno disappointed again, as did Dollar Bill. And the highly touted 3-year-olds, War Emblem, Harlan's Holiday, Came Home, E Dubai, and Perfect Drift filled out the remainder of the field, running Beyers of 89, 77, 76, 70, and 70.

The two most exciting performances of the day came in defeat. Hold That Tiger, an elite runner from the Aidan O'Brien stable, overcame a catastrophic trip to finish a gutsy third behind Vindication in the Juvenile. Under the most adverse of circumstances he still earned a Beyer Figure of 94. In Las Vegas he is 75-1 in the future book for the Kentucky Derby. He will get my $10.

And the most thrilling run of all came from Rock of Gibraltar. Although his trip was not quite as disastrous as that of his stablemate, Hold That Tiger, it was bad enough. His remarkable acceleration in the stretch gave us the only glimpse of true greatness on Breeders' Cup Day.