Handicapping the horses is one of the most satisfying intellectual activities known to man, because it offers such neat, unambiguous ways of resolving disputes.
In most other scholarly pursuits, this isn't possible. If two Shakespearean scholars disagree about interpretations of Hamlet, all they can do is write essays in literary journals; they can never settle anything. But if racetrackers have an intellectual disagreement--over, say, the effect of the track condition on the outcome of the Preakness--they have ways to test the validity of their opinions. Moreover, they can bet on them.
I maintained last week that Aloma's Ruler defeated Linkage only because of a track bias that gave a tremendous advantage to horses on the rail. To my surprise, many readers disagreed.
"The Pimlico bias was not as strong as you suggested," Roger A. Kurrus of Annapolis wrote. "Five horses won from the outside and/or off the pace on Saturday. Also, a number of the place and show horses came from off the pace and wide."
Another thoughtful correspondent inquired of the sports editor, "Who is this Andrew Beyer, anyway? Does he really get paid to write what he does?"
And a telephone message in my mailbox said: "Jack Kaenel called. Bet any amount on Aloma's Ruler in Belmont."
I am unswayed. I still insist that the condition of the Pimlico racing strip on and around the day of the Preakness largely determined the outcome of races. But this is not an unresolvable academic argument. The thesis can be tested this afternoon.
Even when biases are very strong, horses who are vastly superior to their opposition may be able to overcome them. Others may run decently against the bias, but subsequent evidence suggests they would have been capable of a much better performance on a normal track.
The fact that some horses ran creditably against the Pimlico bias does not disprove the existence of the bias; it makes me want to bet on them the next time they run. And there will be many opportunities to do so this afternoon.
After the Preakness, I suggested that Bill Shoemaker probably misjudged the condition of the track because of his ride aboard Linkage's stablemate, Oh Say, earlier in the day. That colt stayed outside all the way and still won by eight lengths. To do what he did, I think he must be one of the best sprinters in the country. He will have the chance to verify that notion this afternoon when he makes his first stakes appearance in the Hannibal Handicap at Delaware Park. He's a cinch.
Another horse who ran creditably from the outside on Preakness Day was Peace for Peace. Breaking from the fifth post position in a field of six, he was kept outside all the way but still managed to finish third. I take this as evidence that he is a much better horse than his past performances suggest, and will support this opinion in the seventh race at Laurel this afternoon.
A couple of other interesting against-the-bias plays exist on the opening-day card at Delaware. Greek Reality didn't run on the day of the Preakness, but he made his last two starts on days when the bias was just as strong. Both times he broke from the outside post position; both times he showed decent speed and both times he remained outside and faded to finish fifth. He should atone for those defeats in the sixth race. Lambie Boy managed to win his last two starts on the outside at Pimlico; although he steps up in class in today's third race, he is a lock.
The performance of these horses ought to convince doubters of the importance of the Pimlico bias. I think I'll bet a four-horse round-robin parlay and save the proceeds for another against-the-bias wager that is likely to arise at Belmont Park one week from today.