11/03/2009 12:00AM

Speed horses may fare better in this Cup


Although the 2008 Breeders' Cup was dominated by stretch-running contenders in all but one of the eight main-track races, the track profile of the current Oak Tree meet has changed.

Fact is we have seen more front-running and stalk-and-go types prevail in the past two weeks than we saw all last Oak Tree meet on the same track. If the new trend continues, the shift from last year's stretch-running bias to a track that accents good overall speed is sure to impact the main track BC races on both Nov. 6 and 7. Indeed, should the accent on speed continue, horseplayers will not be able to eliminate or seriously downplay horses with speed profiles. We also might see a few more Eastern-based horses with good dirt form run better than they did last year.

In 2008, horses that had earned most of their money on dirt tracks failed to win a single BC main-track race. Moreover, all but one BC main-track race was won by a deep closer who rallied wide, or widest. Midshipman did win the $2 million Juvenile on the Pro-Ride with good overall speed from start to finish, but he also went unchallenged for the lead while establishing a moderate pace that led to his victory over the two horses who had chased him through all but a few yards of that 1 1/16-mile race. By any standard the race was an aberration compared to the vast majority of main-track races at Oak Tree last fall.

While the current track profile has persisted for almost three weeks, it would be a huge mistake to take it for granted given the way conditions can change through a variety of track maintenance procedures. So, to protect ourselves, we should watch all of Oak Tree's main track races this week, especially those scheduled for Thursday and the early races scheduled for the Friday BC card. To make good selections, serious minded BC players must be able to assess how the track really is playing.

Here in fact, is a rundown of the BC main-track races with a special eye out for horses with good overall speed who could be in position to take advantage of the current track profile. You will notice that some are New York-based and have run well on dirt tracks, which traditionally play more towards speed than most synthetic surfaces.

$500,000 Marathon, 1 3/4 miles: Aside from European Grade 1 winner Mastery, who will be heavily favored in this race and who often has raced close to the pace, Nite Lite has the most overall speed and should be considered if the track continues to favor speed types.

$1 million Filly and Mare Sprint, 7 furlongs: Likely stretch-running favorites Ventura and Informed Decision will take some beating in this race, which figures to have a contested pace. But a pair of hard-hitting Godolphin-owned horses - Sara Louise and Seventh Street - will deserve close consideration on a surface that has been playing so much differently than the 2008 Pro-Ride.

Sara Louise's credentials include a sharp pace-pressing second to speedy Indian Blessing in the 6 1/2-furlong Gallant Bloom at Belmont Park on Sept. 26 and a good second to Rachel Alexandra in the 1 1/16-mile Golden Rod at Churchill Downs last fall. Meanwhile, Seventh Street was on the pace when second to Swift Temper in the 1 1/16-mile Ruffian at Belmont on Sept 12. Earlier this year, Seventh Street was a wire-to-wire winner in the Grade 1 Apple Blossom at Oaklawn in April and the Grade 1 Go for Wand at Saratoga in August.

$2 million Juvenile Fillies, 1 1/16 miles: While Blind Luck won the Grade 1 Oak Leaf here with a good mid-pack rally when the track was not speed favoring, second-place finisher Always a Princess set the pace in that race and has worked very well over the track for Bob Baffert. Another to consider under the present track profile is Connie and Michael, who romped on the lead in her maiden debut at seven furlongs on the Polytrack at Keeneland for trainer Ken McPeek and earned a 95 Beyer Speed Figure. Although she lacks experience, it would be unwise to discount her natural speed on a neutral, or speed-favoring surface. On a stretch-running track, Connie and Michael would be a throwout.

$2 million Ladies' Classic, 1 1/8 miles: Assuming undefeated Zenyatta goes in the Classic, this race will be wide open regardless of the track profile. Yet, on a speed-favoring surface, Careless Jewel's pace-pressing 11-length win in the Alabama at Saratoga and her front-running 3 1/2-length win in the Cotillion at Philadelphia Park set her up as a wire-to-wire threat. Beyond Careless Jewel, a pair of Godolphin-owned horses - Cocoa Beach and Music Note - will be hard to handle regardless of the track profile.

Cocoa Beach was second to unbeaten Zenyatta in this race last year while finishing strongly along a relatively slow rail path. She also was third to Zenyatta in the Lady's Secret here on Oct 10 while showing tactical speed. Music Note, third in the Ladies' Classic here last year, has been most impressive while racing on or near the pace in her last two Grade 1 victories, which came on dirt at Saratoga and Belmont.

$2 million Sprint, six furlongs: Zensational, the probable favorite, is a very fast 3-year-old trained by Baffert who would seem a most serious win contender on this track. Others with high speed include Cost of Freedom, a John Sadler-trained 6-year-old gelding on the comeback trail who won the 2008 Ancient Title with a 110 Beyer, and Fatal Bullet, second in this race last year to deep closer Midnight Lute. Fatal Bullet is a synthetic-track specialist with good overall speed who will ensure a rapid pace. Should all three hook up in a speed duel, stretch-running Gayego would be tough to handle.

$1 million Dirt Mile: This is a wide-open race with a deep list of contenders. One who could benefit from the present track profile is Bullsbay.

Bullsbay tends to race just behind the leaders and made a serious bid in the upper stretch when third to Rachel Alexandra in the historic Woodward at Saratoga on Sept. 5. He also won the Grade 1 Whitney on Aug. 8 and has two wins and three seconds on synthetic surfaces, plus exceptional form at one mile and 1 1/16 miles.

$2 million Juvenile, 1 1/16 miles: While the Baffert-trained Norfolk winner Lookin at Lucky has enough speed to be close to the lead, Eastern-based D' Funnybone has won 3 of 4, including a pair of Grade 2 sprint stakes at Saratoga and Belmont with an effective stalk-and-go running style. D' Funnybone is one of those horses who would have been a complete throwout on last year's Pro-Ride, which favored deep closers and horses with turf pedigrees or local experience.

$5 million Classic, 1 1/4 miles: Deep closer Zenyatta may be the sentimental favorite to win this race, but the top-class European Rip Van Winkle tends to race close to the pace and has done well against the very best European horses throughout his career. Meanwhile, Einstein, a versatile graded stakes winner on dirt, turf, and synthetics, has good overall speed for the distance. Summer Bird, formerly a deep closer, has learned to race in contact with the pace while developing into a multiple Grade 1 stakes winner, and Quality Road, impressive winner of the Florida Derby in March, seemed closer to that form when a front-running second to Summer Bird in the Jockey Club Gold Cup.