03/17/2009 11:00PM

Talking to myself? Yes - and I spoke too soon


PHILADELPHIA - "How good is this horse?" I was watching the Rebel Stakes alone, and I think that is what I said aloud as Old Fashioned effortlessly seized the lead from Silver City.

I was thinking Ramon Dominguez should avoid winning the race by too much. No need for the whip. Just sort of let the unbeaten colt cruise under the wire and pose for pictures.

You watch enough races and you think you know the telltale signs. Smooth stride, easy acceleration, speed on command. When you see them in a horse who has already shown great ability, you wonder about the possibilities.

Just when I began to consider the future, Oaklawn Park's announcer, Terry Wallace, woke me from my reverie, saying that a horse was moving from the back. I still did not pay attention. I just assumed the move would be too late and Old Fashioned would gallop under the wire gloriously.

Then, I noticed the margin was narrowing quickly. I still had no idea who the other horse was. When Terry informed me that Win Willy was going to go by Old Fashioned, I thought he was making it up, even though I could see what he was saying was quite true.

As we all do after an inexplicable result, I went back to the paper to see what Win Willy had done. The answer was somewhere between not much and nothing.

Now, I was even more confused. I assumed Old Fashioned had just not progressed from his 2-year-old season or perhaps even gone backward. Well, I was wrong about that too.

Turned out Old Fashioned got a Beyer Speed Figure of 98, in line with his final two Beyer Figures of 2008. It certainly wasn't the performance I was expecting, but it wasn't a disaster. I was looking for a 105 to take Old Fashioned to the Arkansas Derby. The colt was a few lengths off of that. Again, not a disaster, but not what you hope to see from a colt who ran so rapidly as a 2-year-old.

What I could not explain and still can't is the 102 earned by Win Willy, a colt whose three previous Beyers were 71, 48 (turf), and 86.

Well, it is a fact that Win Willy is unbeaten in three dirt starts. Perhaps he is just a late-developing colt who made a giant leap forward in his second 3-year-old start. Could have been that. Could be a fluke.

Could be that a lot of us were wrong about Old Fashioned. There was a time when I had a problem admitting I did not know what I did not know. That is no longer a problem, as so many examples have surfaced over the years.

Still, I generally don't talk to myself unless something warrants it. I really liked what I saw from Old Fashioned as he took the lead. I really was wondering what the margin would be. Then, horse-racing reality intervened.

This is very much a confidence game. When you are confident, you think more clearly, make better decisions, win more money.

It is a bit disconcerting when you can be so wrong about what you think you knew and what you are seeing in real time.

Rather than panic, I am just going to wait. See how Old Fashioned runs next time.

I learned my Larry Jones lesson two years ago with Hard Spun. I never thought much of the colt until he ran so well to be second in the Kentucky Derby. Jones kept him in top form the rest of the year. The only time Hard Spun did not run his race was when he got shaky rides.

So, I am making no pronouncements about Old Fashioned. The old me would just dismiss the horse. Generally, once 3-year-olds don't go forward, that is it. I have my doubts about Old Fashioned at this point, but want to see more before I decide this colt is not what I thought he might be.

I thought Friesan Fire looked great in the Louisiana Derby. That was easy, fast and convincing. And the 104 Beyer tells everybody it was quite serious.

I did not like anything about Pioneerof the Nile's race in the San Felipe. I never understood the hype about this horse. Pioneerof the Nile has one very simple problem. He is not very fast.

The San Felipe was a glorified allowance race. If Pioneerof the Nile were a serious Derby contender, he would have crushed the field. Instead, he was under pressure to win.

I have never been a big "he waited on horses" believer. That is just a way of saying "this horse isn't as good as we thought."

Trainer Bob Baffert promises a much better Pioneerof the Nile in the Santa Anita Derby. He better be right or Pioneerof the Nile is not a Derby horse. The San Felipe's winning Beyer of 90 won't win many graded 3-year-old stakes. It might not beat more than half the Derby field.

Keep in mind, however, that I was the same person talking to myself during the Rebel. So, it is fair to question someone who talks to himself.