07/12/2005 11:00PM

Reputations often deceive

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PHILADELPHIA - Any serious handicapping treatise has to include a chapter on Reputation-Induced Phenomenon (RIP). It does not come up that often. It usually happens in the most significant races. When it does go down, the risk vs. reward potential is always high.

Limehouse and Lava Man entered Saturday's Hollywood Gold Cup with the same last-race Beyer Speed Figure, 112. Limehouse had won the Grade 2 Brooklyn on the Belmont Stakes undercard. Lava Man had won the Grade 2 Californian.

Limehouse was 6-5. Lava Man was 6-1. Why? RIP.

Limehouse absolutely is a solid horse. He has been very good at 2, 3, and 4, a rarity these days. He was coming off a career top in the Brooklyn. He certainly deserved major action in the Gold Cup. But 6-5?

Lava Man was claimed for $50,000 last August. He won a stakes at Fairplex off the claim and then lost seven consecutive races. Once he got blinkers in May, he became much more locked in and won two straight, including the Californian.

If the Beyers were the same, why wasn't the betting close at all? Assumptions. The prevailing opinion was that Limehouse just had to be better because he had been running well against better horses for longer. The reality was that on July 9, there was nothing separating these horses.

Actually, there was a lot. Lava Man exploded (I refuse to say erupted) to win by almost nine lengths. He got a 120 Beyer. Limehouse never looked comfortable and finished fifth.

Do I think Lava Man is that much better than Limehouse? Of course not. The speed-favoring nature of the track certainly helped carry Lava Man.

Was it a hard bet? No. Was it an obvious bet? Yes.

By the way, has there ever been a better rider on a speed horse than Patrick Valenzuela? If Lava Man weren't already attractive enough, Valenzuela's presence meant that the horse would get the perfect Southern California trip. The race appeared to have a lot of sped, but as track announcer Vic Stauffer said right before the race, when P. Val is in the race, he is usually on the speed.

Just before the Gold Cup, they ran the Swaps Stakes. Can somebody please explain how Don't Get Mad was 6-5? This overhyped colt has never hit 100 on the Beyer scale. His running style so eliminated him from contention that Gary Stevens had to take him out of his game and ask for run far earlier than he wanted, just hoping the colt would get into the race. It never happened, and the horse finished fifth.

The winner, Surf Cat, did not offer much value at 8-5. Don't Get Mad offered none at any price. He had no chance on the Beyers and no chance on the speed-favoring track. I did not really know who was going to win the race, although many sharpies obviously did. I did know who was not going to win it.

It is rare you see RIP in consecutive races, but there it was at Hollywood Park last Saturday.

And then there is Lost in the Fog, the polar opposite of RIP. With $760,449 out of $798,124 in the show pool riding on him in Sunday's Carry Back Stakes at Calder, Lost in the Fog gave the bridge-jumpers no reason to move. The race was over instantly when Lost in the Fog beat the gate. Crawfish King, the other speed horse, tried Lost in the Fog on the backstretch and finished last.

For those who still don't appreciate Lost in the Fog, get this. The colt has now won his eight races by 54 3/4 lengths. He ran his final quarter Sunday in 23.84 seconds. Running the same six-furlong distance on the same card, he ran faster than the brilliant filly Madcap Escapade and the hot 5-year-old Woke Up Dreamin. Which got him a career-best Beyer of 116.

Yes, he has been beating some weak fields during the best-managed campaign I can remember. But isn't that the idea? Run where you can't lose.

Another unbeaten horse - the filly Happy Ticket, who had been 9 for 9 - finally got beat when she had a terrible trip and could not get close to Madcap Escapade. But she showed that her record was no fluke.

Lost in the Fog is anything but a fluke. No doubt, the colt will get tested at some point. After what we saw Sunday, I am not sure it is going to matter. His eight Beyers are 103, 109, 102, 105, 105, 110, 107, and 116. I think the best is yet to come. I think he wins the King's Bishop like he has won everything else. And then I think he will prove he is the anti-RIP horse when he is an underlay in the Breeders' Cup Sprint and wins anyway, earning a Beyer of 120 or so.