07/11/2007 12:00AM

Throw out Fabulous Strike's bad race


PHILADELPHIA - If the question is name the two fastest horses ever bred in Pennsylvania, the exacta box is Danzig and Smarty Jones. Before they ran last Saturday's Smile Sprint Handicap at Calder, one could make a case for a trifecta with the incredibly fast Fabulous Strike. After all, Fabulous Strike's previous four Beyer Speed Figures were 115, 118, 119, and 115.

Then they ran the race. Fabulous Strike staggered home fifth and got a 78 Beyer. The gelding hit the front out of the gate, but was passed by eventual winner Mach Ride midway through the race and could not keep up. While they were certainly scorching, Fabulous Strike had run that fast before and kept going. Mach Ride's winning Beyer was 109, certainly within the scope of Fabulous Strike.

Could it have been the increased pressure from the better group of horses Fabulous Strike was facing? Possible. Still, Fabulous Strike was out of the race by the quarter pole.

Fabulous Strike's trainer Todd Beattie is confident he knows why the horse ran so poorly.

"He had what they call 'the thumps,'" said Beattie who trains Fabulous Strike out of his Penn National barn. "It's an electrolyte imbalance on the lines of a heat stroke."

Fabulous Strike shipped to Florida two days before the race. Everything seemed normal for two days. Apparently, the Florida heat and humidity was taking an invisible toll.

"If I would have had any idea, I would have been out of there in a minute," Beattie said.

Beattie thought something was amiss when the horse was, as he said, "rough in the paddock." Fabulous Strike had always been relaxed in the paddock. Beattie knew something was wrong when Fabulous Strike did not want to go into the gate and acted crazy while he was in there.

"He never did that before," Beattie said. "He must have already been overheating. He was out of his element. He knew he was in trouble."

After the race, it got scary, Beattie said.

"He staggered after the race on the way back to barn and in the barn," he said. "He was wobbly. We got water on him and tried to cool him down. It was pretty serious for an hour after the race. It appears like he recovered fairly fast."

Beattie is actually thankful Fabulous Strike backed out when he did.

"He went through a traumatic thing, but it isn't quite the same as if he would have spent his energy running excessively fast," he said. "I'm very happy how he looks. He only took off about 12 pounds on that trip."

Looking back on it now, Beattie's own experience may have portended what happened to the horse.

"It didn't really register that hot on the thermometer, but the humidity was so high," Beattie said.

The trainer took six pair of jeans and nine T-shirts to Florida for a few days.

"I had to come home with dirty clothes," Beattie said. "I went through them all. Water was just running off them."

The trainer is happy to have his horse back in central Pennsylvania in reasonably good shape. Fabulous Strike was going back to the track Wednesday.

"I'm not sure how long it's going to take to get him back where we need to be," Beattie said. "In another couple of weeks, I'll have a lot better idea."

He is not going to hold the one bad race against his horse.

"We'll give him the opportunity to come back," Beattie said. "I'll be shocked if he won't."

It pays to be skeptical in this game. Everybody has an excuse for just about everything.

I remember two years ago when Tim Ritchey said Afleet Alex had a lung infection, which is why he ran so poorly one day at Oaklawn Park. It sounded like an excuse. Turns out it was an excuse, a perfectly reasonable excuse, as the colt's wins in the Arkansas Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes proved conclusively.

With Fabulous Strike, the clue is in the Beyers - 78, 115, 118, 119, 115. Which number does not fit?

The race favorite Smokey Stover arrived at Calder with Beyers of 111, 105, 113, and 104. He got an 87 while finishing third. What number does not fit?

"He tried to run," Smokey Stover's trainer Greg Gilchrist said. "His head was down lower. He usually runs with a confidence about him. He did not look anything like the horse I usually see."

Gilchrist is convinced his horse hated the Calder surface, which changed during the day. It was fast for the first race, then sloppy, then drying out and almost fast again.

Gilchrist praised the winner and said he does not like to make excuses. But the Beyers are the Beyers.

So when you evaluate Fabulous Strike and Smokey Stover the next time they run, keep those Beyers in mind.