08/26/2009 12:00AM

Play the turf horses on turf. It's obvious, right?


PHILADELPHIA - While contemplating several mysteries of life - including whether as my friend said on ESPN a few weeks ago that Rachel Alexandra and Ruffian are the greatest 3-year-old fillies of all time (I think he is more than likely correct); the obvious decision for Mine That Bird to bypass the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby on Labor Day to parade before the $2 million All American Futurity at Ruidoso Downs on the same day; whether the springtime version of Quality Road could give Rachel a serious race (I think so); and why all these sports leagues care if Delaware has single-game sports betting - I am proud to say I have solved one mystery that really is not all that mysterious.

On grass, horses with solid, established grass form are better than horses with no grass form.

Given my lifelong grasp of the obvious, I sort of always knew that, but it hit home as I was watching the odds board for the . While the rest of the world was into Del Mar and Saratoga, I was into America's most compelling race meet, played out just a few furlongs from Street Road and barely a furlong from a gigantic slots casino rising in the parking lot.

A group of maidens was going five furlongs on the grass for a $42,000 purse. Any Pennsylvania-breds also were racing for a 40 percent bonus.

The 2.10-1 favorite was Press the Limit. The 3-year-old colt had started six times, with a second and two thirds. Most recently, the son of Stormy Atlantic had been fourth after showing speed in an off-the-grass six-furlong race at Belmont Park. His only second was on the Tapeta at Presque Isle. The colt had never raced on the grass.

The 2.40-1 second choice was Palamonium. He had just missed against statebreds at the same distance. Prior to that, he ran a strong third in open company. He had solid Beyer Speed Figures for the special weight category of 67 and 63.

The 5.10-1 third choice was Storm Proof. The gelding showed very little as a 2-year-old but came back with a solid second in his 3-year-old debut on June 21 at Philly Park. Like the favorite, Storm Proof had never been on grass.

The 5.40-1 fourth choice was Forest's Victory. Two back, the colt had finished just behind Palamonium after leading to the stretch. Last out, the colt had chased the speed and stayed second. This time, Forest's Victory looked like the speed.

As I looked at the race, I didn't really consider it a betting opportunity. I wrote down MOTO (Pete Axthelm's legendary and dismissive Master of the Obvious) next to Palamonium. I figured the exacta with Palamonium and Forest's Victory would pay between $18 and $20.

Then, the betting started. I couldn't figure out what was going on. What did "they" know that I didn't? Turned out, nothing.

Press the Limit was trained by the estimable Michael Trombetta (29 percent on the year at the Philly Park) and ridden by the terrific young jockey Kendrick Carmouche (coming to a big time near you soon). So there was that.

Storm Proof, a son of Storm Cat, was trained by the excellent Alan Goldberg and ridden by the very solid Roberto Alvarado, so there was also that.

There also was the fact that neither horse had ever run in a grass race.

As post time neared, one of the MOTO exactas was paying nearly $50. The other was a bit less than that. This was more than twice what I expected.

This actually was as obvious as it looked. Forest's Victory went right to the front and held off the late charge of the chasing Palamonium to win by a nose. Storm Proof never got out of first gear and finished sixth. Press the Limit chased the two horses with grass form and tired badly through the stretch to finish seventh.

The exacta paid $49.60.

Maybe, it was the dopey New York OTB money, which comes into the Philly Park pools on Monday. Maybe, it was just respect for the riders and trainers. Whatever it was, anybody who believes in grass form vs. no grass form was given a surprising and gratifying reward.

How often does stuff like this happen? Not often enough. But when it does, it usually has something to do with reputation being deemed more important than performance. And if you don't think performance matters more, can I hold your action from now until eternity?

By the way, I have to admit I would have had serious reservations about my conclusion if one factor had changed in the race. I was very thankful that Linda Rice did not train Press the Limit or Storm Proof.

I believe in what I believe. I also know what I know. And I know you never take a stand against Linda Rice in a grass dash, not at Saratoga, not even at Philly Park.