09/20/2005 11:00PM

Perception to meet reality in BC Sprint

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PHILADELPHIA - If you are a player who has experienced success, it is very hard to get beyond your preconceived notions. It is, in fact, easy to get comfortable. It is also a giant mistake.

Rick Pitino knows his way around horses. He also knows something about basketball. I will never forget what he said at the 1997 Final Four, when his Kentucky Wildcats were going for their second consecutive national championship.

Pitino took the classic sports cliche "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" and said, "If it ain't broke, break it."

In other words, don't get comfortable. What worked then might not work now. Adapt or get passed. Change with the times or risk being one of those people who constantly recalls past glory because the present is devoid of success.

I learned this game as an exacta player. There were years when I never said the word "win" at the windows. Place and show? An embarrassment, then and now.

In recent years, I have found myself gravitating much more to the pick three and pick four. One of my strengths is the ability to identify horses who can't win. If you can't do that in multiple-race bets, you should not be playing. If you can, and you have the ability to find a few live longshots, multi-race bets were invented for you.

If I like one horse to win, have an opinion on a longshot to hit the board, and don't like one of the favorites, a superfecta becomes very appealing.

There is a bet for every circumstance. Unless, of course, you have no opinion. Which is why they invented the next race.

There is no right way to do this. There is no one-size-fits-all. There is only you, your bankroll, and your imagination. It is often you against you.

What applies to betting also applies to evaluation. It is quite easy to get stuck on an opinion and refuse to change, no matter the evidence. It is not that difficult to decide what you think and then find all the evidence to support your theory while ignoring anything that contradicts it. It is very easy to deceive yourself.

The ongoing debate about Lost in the Fog is a fascinating case study. Everybody knows the issues. On one side, there is the "What has he beaten" crowd. On the other side, there are those who answer that he has beaten every horse who has run against him.

I think everybody is missing the point. Lost in the Fog is different. His quarter-mile times are irrelevant. So, in some ways, are the final times.

Lost in the Fog wins his races in the first 20 yards. The colt is so agile and so athletic that he is making something that is very hard look very easy. I would like to see his 20-yard times. I can't imagine many horses have ever run so fast so soon in their races. This colt's greatest attribute is something that really can't be measured.

If you don't watch this very closely and forget what you think you know, you are looking in the wrong place. What you see is what you get. Many people simply don't want to see. They want to believe what they have known to be true.

This is not about the horses Lost in the Fog has run against or not run against. It is about Lost in the Fog. His opponents get so discouraged that even if they did have talent, they have no real opportunity to demonstrate it. Lost in the Fog's races really are over way before they are over.

If you really want to understand the impact of Lost in the Fog, check out the finish position of the horses who challenge him at any point during a race. They almost always are seen retreating through the field. When you see horse after horse run up after one horse and collapse, something very unusual is going on.

I have never seen a horse quite like Lost in the Fog. That doesn't mean he is the greatest sprinter in the history of the world. It does mean the horse is different and is best evaluated through a different prism.

Is it possible some really fast horse will hook Lost in the Fog in the Breeders' Cup Sprint and make him run too fast too soon? Sure. Is Lost in the Fog a lock of life on Oct. 29? Of course not. Is it also possible that Lost in the Fog will run the best sprinters in the world right off their feet? Definitely. Do I think he will win it? Yes.

Most important, Lost in the Fog is a reminder to all of us that our version of the truth is just a version and not necessarily the truth.