10/16/2001 11:00PM

Who's most likely to bounce on Oct. 27?


COLUMBIA, Md. - If you carefully study the results on Preview Day at Belmont Park back on Oct. 6, you can get some valuable ideas for Breeders' Cup Day. Simply put, it's all a matter of timing. When millions of dollars are up for grabs, it's not enough just to have the best horse. That horse has to be timed to run his best race on one particular day, Oct. 27.

This question of timing was well illustrated in the 11th race on Oct. 6 - a race without direct relevance to the Breeders' Cup. Amjaad was the favorite in this everyday allowance. His last two races were strong second-place finishes, earning back-to-back Beyer Figures of 93 and 94. Only one other horse in the race had ever run a faster Beyer - a horse named Source, with a figure of 100 in his next-to-last start.

But a look at the pattern of Amjaad's figures showed his vulnerability. He had improved from 74 to 80 to a lifetime-best 94. Then he had a month layoff and came back with a 93. I didn't like him that day, fearing a bounce. But on Oct. 6 I threw him out totally. After the initial 94 he was likely to bounce, but he didn't. After the follow-up 93 he was very likely to bounce. And he did. Amjaad trailed the field, made a wide move on the turn, and then flattened out badly in the stretch. Source won easily at 7-2.

In the upcoming Breeders' Cup Distaff one of the favorites will show just the same figure pattern as Amjaad. That horse is Exogenous, winner of the Beldame on Oct. 6. A 3-year-old filly, she has improved dramatically over the last three months. Prior to the Beldame, her Beyers had moved up from 84 to 99 to 110. She followed that with an all-out, draining Beyer of 109 in winning the Beldame. There's a good chance she has peaked too soon. Her timing does not look right for the Distaff.

Of course, as with every "rule" in handicapping there are always exceptions. There are rare cases of horses moving up to a new plateau of lifetime-best Beyers and stringing together three consecutive big efforts.

Charismatic finished up just such a remarkable run when he won the Preakness in 1999. But these examples are extremely rare.

The beneficiary of an Exogenous bounce could well be Flute. She has been handled very carefully all year. After a layoff and only one allowance prep, she easily won the Alabama at Saratoga with a figure of 106. Now, after another brief layoff and a prep in the Beldame (a Beyer of 107), she should be ready for a peak effort. And her trip in the Beldame was not the best.

Jockey Jerry Bailey put her on the rail, which was not the best footing that day at Belmont. Exogenous moved outside and struggled to pass the leaders while lugging in badly. Flute should be the fresher horse on Oct. 27.

Another big winner on Oct. 6 was the vastly improved Aptitude. He should be a big factor in the Breeders' Cup Classic, especially with the ongoing severe attrition in the ranks. Point Given is gone. A P Valentine is gone. Monarchos is only now returning to training after an injury.

Albert the Great ran a horrible race in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Tiznow does not look like the same horse as last year, and had to be urged every step to complete a lifeless, one-paced effort in the recent Goodwood at Santa Anita. Lido Palace was not supplemented. And Macho Uno doesn't really belong.

That probably leaves only two serious challengers for Aptitude: the English stars Fantastic Light and Galileo - the two best horses in the world. If they can handle the dirt, they are the horses to beat. And they could be helped by the fact that Aptitude himself may have peaked too soon.

His Beyer Figures have risen steadily in four giant steps from a lowly 103 back in June, up to a league-leading 123 in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Coming off a perfect trip and an astronomical lifetime-best Beyer, he could be vulnerable. But this is a less obvious case than Exogenous. Aptitude has been lightly raced, he didn't seem to be pushed too hard in the Jockey Club, and he is trained by this year's reigning superstar, Bobby Frankel.

Still, I would go with the two Europeans. Fantastic Light is absolutely at his best at 1 1/4 miles, and Galileo is at least his equal. Aptitude could regress just enough to lose his edge against horses of this world-class caliber.

Timing is always important in handicapping, and evaluating the pattern of Beyer Speed Figures can be helpful in getting a sense of a horse's readiness on any particular day. The case of Amjaad demonstrates that quite clearly.

But timing becomes absolutely crucial if you're a trainer preparing a horse for the seven-figure purses of Breeders' Cup Day. Of course, it's not always so easy to calibrate. But trainers are increasingly aware of the danger: If you peak too early you can blow the whole game - not just a multi-million-dollar pot, but a divisional title, a world championship, and a giddy moment in the national media spotlight so rare these days in the world of racing.