06/09/2009 11:00PM

Weighing synthetic, dirt figures tricky business


PHILADELPHIA - As a society, we try very hard not to let facts get in the way of our assumptions. Once something is decided, it almost impossible to change minds. Perception really does become reality.

Take Beyer Speed Figures on synthetic surfaces. There has been an assumption that the figures are lower than they are on dirt surfaces. Well, that is true in some circumstances. It is also untrue in other circumstances.

As Andrew Beyer explained in a June 3 column, we have tweaked the figures on synthetic surfaces because speed is generally not as effective and horses have a tendency to be more bunched at the finish line than on typical dirt surfaces where the kickback inhibits closers.

Simply put, our dirt speed chart, which has stood the test of time, needed to be adjusted for synthetic surfaces. The best horses generally were running slower than they were supposed to. The slowest horses were running faster than our dirt chart suggested they should. Please refer to Beyer's column for a detailed explanation.

What you don't want to do here is make assumptions based on a little bit of data. Just because some stakes horses in Southern California earned lower figures on synthetics than they should have does not mean this is a one size fits all situation.

Consider the cases of Dominican and Monba, the winners of the 2007 and 2008 Blue Grass Stakes. Dominican got a 99 when he beat eventual Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense in the Blue Grass. In the Derby, Dominican got an 84 when he finished 11th.

Dominican got a 99 when second in the Fayette at Keeneland last October. A month later, running in the Clark at Churchill, Dominican got a 77. Back at Keeneland in the spring, the gelding got a pair of 89 Beyers. The horse is 4 for 10 on synthetics, 0 for 6 on fast dirt.

So, this works both ways. Some horses run much better on dirt than synthetics. For others, like Dominican, it is the reverse.

After getting a 33 Beyer on dirt in the Fountain of Youth, Monba won the 2008 Blue Grass with a 92. The colt then ran last in the Derby with a 21. Monba got a 100 when fourth in this year's Santa Anita Derby on Pro Ride.

Let's review - 33, 92, 21, 100; dirt, synthetic, dirt, synthetic. Do you detect a pattern here?

The point is that there are no hard and fast rules. Confronted by a group of horses with recent dirt and synthetic form, a player who simply adds an arbitrary number of points to a synthetic figure is making a mistake. Monba and Dominican are stark examples of why that makes no sense.

And there is the amazing Einstein, who will run in Saturday's Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs. The horse has a career best Beyer of 103 on dirt, 103 on synthetics. and 106 on grass.

You don't have to add or subtract anything with this horse. You just look at his form and head to the windows.

Einstein has 10 triple-digit Beyers in his 25 career races - seven on grass, two on dirt, one on synthetics. Does that mean the horse is better on grass? It means the horse has run 17 times on grass, four times on fast dirt, and once on synthetics.

This is the unique horse that produces his best form when he comes out of a starting gate, no matter the surface or the situation.

The dirt/synthetic argument is not much different than every other argument among players. There is no right or wrong answer that fits nicely into our preconceived notions.

Sort of like the 2009 Triple Crown. Really, did anything go like we expected?

We spent months discussing all those horses in all those prep races. By the eighth pole of the Derby, as Mine That Bird emerged from the back of the pack, all of our discussion was irrelevant. Who even bothered to look at the tape of the Sunland Derby until after the race?

What were the odds of the Triple Crown races being won by a 50-1 shot from New Mexico, a filly, and a horse with one career win? We all assumed we knew something. Turned out we knew nothing, but it certainly was fascinating when reality was so much different than our assumptions.

So, here is my advice. Try to separate the known from the unknown. Make no assumptions. Win money.