01/23/2008 12:00AM

Speed-crazy surface doesn't add up


PHILADELPHIA - When exactly did Nascar start racing at Santa Anita?

We here at Beyer central have been faced with all kinds of racetracks through the years - frozen tracks, souped-up tracks, muddy, slow tracks, drying-out tracks that changed during a card.

We have never faced anything quite like the new Cushion Track at Santa Anita. There have been frozen tracks that have been as fast for a day or two. There are tracks like Turf Paradise that are extremely fast most of the time. This is different. This is supersonic.

"I don't know that there has ever been a track that has been this consistently fast," said Andrew Beyer, who makes the Santa Anita speed figures.

How fast? On one day, Santa Anita was twice as fast as the crazy-fast track at Churchill Downs on the day Monarchos won the 2001 Kentucky Derby. On just about every day since the meet opened on Dec. 26, it has been faster than Turf Paradise at its fastest.

"The variant has been consistently -40 to -50,'' Beyer said.

That means 40 to 50 Beyer points have to be subtracted from the raw times to get the actual Beyer Figures. Fifty points at six furlongs equates to 3.5 seconds, or about 17 lengths.

The value of Beyers versus times was never more evident than this past weekend. On Saturday, Ah Day won the Fire Plug at Laurel with a six-furlong time of 1:09.95. Two days later, In Summation went the same distance in the Palos Verdes at Santa Anita in an insane 1:06.67. (The time looks like a typo, but it was real.)

Ah Day got a Beyer of 109. In Summation got a 107. Laurel was three Beyer points slow. Santa Anita was 47 Beyer points fast.

The raw number for In Summation was 154, a number that is way off our normal charts, sort of like that 141 raw figure Indian Blessing got in her 3-year-old debut on Jan. 13.

Indian Blessing ran seven furlongs in 1:19.89. And got a Beyer of 91 because the track was 50 Beyer points fast.

Think about these times for a second, or the 66.67 seconds it took In Summation. Did you ever imagine horses going below 1:20 and 1:07? And it wasn't like the two horses won by 31 lengths. Indian Blessing won by a head, In Summation by a neck.

We just look at the times and make judgments about the variants, based on what the horses have done in the past in relation to all the times on a card. This is nothing different in that regard. But you see times like these and you do a double-take.

The tip-off on the new surface came opening day, the day after Christmas. It was a -41 variant. On New Year's Day, it was -44. Two days later, it was -51.

On May 5, 2001, at Churchill, it seemed ridiculously fast when Monarchos ran the Derby distance in 1:59.97. Track records were falling. The variant was -25, which seems kind of tame by comparison to what is going down at Santa Anita these days.

After the week off at Santa Anita because of the drainage issues, the track stayed fast, really fast.

The Beyers are the Beyers. They are designed to account for the relative speed of track surfaces. What we can't account for is how this might affect horses who run these times at Santa Anita.

Almost every horse that won on the day of Monarchos's Derby went dramatically off form in the immediate aftermath. That included Monarchos. Running those times on that hard track clearly was too much.

Monday at Santa Anita, a $12,500 claiming race for California-breds at six furlongs went in 1:07.60. Isn't that supposed to be the winning time of the Breeders' Cup Sprint?

Three-year-old maiden fillies went three-quarters in 1:08.58. The winner of a $40,000 maiden claimer for Cal-breds went in 1:15.37 for 6 1/2 furlongs.

This is quite a complicated game. The Beyers take some of the complexity out of the game. But these times are kind of bewildering. Beyond the day-to-day task of trying to pick winners and make money, this sport is about its history and tradition. Secretariat's 2:24 in the 1973 Belmont Stakes means something. So does Dr. Fager's 1:32.20 mile in the 1968 Washington Park Handicap.

What exactly do the times of Indian Blessing and In Summation mean? We know they translate to 91 and 107. We also know something just does not seem right.