07/08/2004 12:00AM

Where are the fast juveniles? Not in Kentucky


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Last week Lunarpal became only the second horse to sweep Churchill's three-race spring stakes series for 2-year-olds - following Horse of the Year Favorite Trick in 1997. But with a top Beyer Speed Figure of 85, he is not the fastest 2-year-old in training.

To see where Lunarpal fits against the fastest from across the country, I accessed the Daily Racing Form database and checked the top speed figures posted by 2-year-olds running at major North American tracks. Some of the information I discovered surprised me.

Did you know, for example, that more 2-year-olds have run Beyers of 90 or higher at Prairie Meadows than at Arlington, Belmont, Churchill Downs, and Lone Star combined? Two horses, Panorama Valley and Departing Now, each earned 91 Beyers in winning stakes at Prairie Meadows July 1.

By contrast, no 2-year-old has run above a 76 Beyer at Arlington. The numbers are similar at Lone Star, with a Beyer of 75 being the top there.

Churchill had several 2-year-olds run in the mid-80's, including Lunarpal on multiple occasions, but no 2-year-old there ran above an 87.

Churchill was not alone in failing to have an ultra-quick winner of a 2-year-old race. There were no 90-plus Beyers turned in by 2-year-olds at Bay Meadows, Delaware, Louisiana Downs, Monmouth, or Woodbine, either.

Belmont had one 2-year-old crack a 90. Dream Time, a Storm Cat filly, won her debut June 17 and received a 91 Beyer.

So where are the fast 2-year-olds? A glance at the accompanying chart shows they reside in California. Six horses have run 90-plus Beyers at Hollywood Park this spring, easily most of any track. One of them, Diligent Prospect, earned a triple-digit Beyer, running a 102 in a maiden race May 30.

There have also been a couple quick winners at Calder, including Devils Disciple, who earned a 97 Beyer in winning the Criterium Stakes July 3.

The precocity of horses from California and Florida is understandable. With most 2-year-old races at this time of year being run at five or six furlongs, these races favor speed. And Florida and California gear their breeding and racing programs around speed.

Trainers in the East, particularly New York, also tend to sit on their best horses, waiting for Saratoga. During that meet, there will be no shortage of fast winners. Many of them also will have pedigrees to become more than early-season flashes in the pan.

As for Kentucky's not-so-fast group of spring 2-year-olds, that might be attributed to the impact of Mare Reproductive Loss Syndrome, which struck Kentucky farms in 2001. It resulted in widespread miscarriages and aborted fetuses among broodmares, which caused a severe reduction in the 2002 foal crop and a lesser impact on the 2001 crop.

MRLS hit hardest among mares that were bred early in the year, which limited the number of early foals, ones born in January and February. Early foals are the type most often pointed to spring 2-year-old races, because they are typically more mature than horses born later in the year.

Although Kentucky-breds race all over the country, they constitute the majority of the starters at Churchill Downs. So the loss due to MRLS is felt more at Churchill Downs, and now Ellis Park, than elsewhere.

How can we profit from this Beyer information on these juveniles? Obviously, when horses on the accompanying list race, they merit respect. Their figures will jump out to the betting public, however.

The more rewarding plays will likely come on horses who ran behind horses on this list. Their performances will look worse than they were, simply because they had the unfortunate luck to compete in such a fast race.

Beyond that angle, the runners on the accompanying list could become favorable plays if shipped to another track. Panorama Valley, Departing Now, and Devils Disciple have all won stakes in fast time, but because their wins came at tracks like Prairie Meadows and Calder, they may be underbet if they run at a track considered of higher quality.

Lastly, this data suggests California-based 2-year-olds could be headed for a banner year. If fast West Coast 2-year-olds are shipped East, they might prove difficult to defeat in prestigious summer races.