The Breeders' Cup produced some confounding results, with winners paying odds of 32-1, 30-1 and 19-1 in thoroughbred racing's most important championship events. But with the benefit of hindsight, the events at Gulfstream Park Nov. 6 have become a bit more understandable.
In the aftermath of the Breeders' Cup, many handicappers (including me) concluded that a biased Gulfstream racing strip had given an advantage to horses racing on or near the rail--horses who were, in most cases, front-runners.
This theory would explain the upset victories of Cash Run and Cat Thief, speedsters who outfought strong-looking rivals outside them in the stretch. But the bias theory was by no means airtight.
Officials of Gulfstream Park disputed the suggestions that a bias had existed.
"The track cushion was a uniform 3 1/4 inches at all points," insisted track superintendent Ted Malloy. "It was a fair and consistent surface."
While the majority of races were won by horses on the inside, some of the results--such as the victory of the sprinter Artax and the filly Beautiful Pleasure--were completely logical. And Anees did manage to win the Juvenile by rallying from 14th place while staying outside all the way.
These ambiguities were typical of the problems horseplayers face whenever they try to discern the existence of a bias. Nobody posts a sign on a racing strip declaring, "The rail is good today." Rarely is the evidence unequivocal. Astute horseplayers who compare notes on biases frequently find themselves holding sharp differences of opinion about this critical factor.
But sometimes the questions about a bias can be resolved after the fact. Bettors can monitor the subsequent performance of horses who raced over a supposedly bias surface. If a horse had been racing against a bias, he ought to deliver an improved performance on a normal track. The opposite is true if a horse had been bias-aided.
Now that some of the horses in the Breeders' Cup have run again, there should be no more debate about the condition of the Gulfstream strip.
Affirmed Success was one of the many horses breaking from outside posts in the Breeders' Cup Sprint who never got into contention. (The horses starting from posts 10, 11, 12, 13 and 14 finished in the rear half of the field.) Did Affirmed Success finish 12th because he was in poor form? Hardly. He returned to competition in Saturday's $350,000 Cigar Mile at Aqueduct, sped the first six furlongs in 1:08 4/5 and drew away to a five-length victory.
Captain Steve was parked three-wide at the first turn in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, raced four-wide on the backstretch and tired badly, finishing 11th. High Yield finished third in the Juvenile after breaking from post No. 2 and saving ground much of the way. Twenty-five lengths separated the two colts at Gulfstream Park. But when they faced each other in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs Saturday, Captain Steve scored an authoritative victory, winning by more than five lengths, while High Yield finished sixth. Captain Steve's Beyer Speed Figure of 105 was better than the winning number in the Juvenile.
Cash Run had looked like a faint-hearted front-runner before she ran in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies and fought back from the rail to upset the undefeated favorite Chilukki. Was her performance a product of the bias, or had Cash Run simply improved? (The superbly bred filly, who had cost $1.2 million as a yearling, was certainly eligible to do so.) The answer came in the Golden Rod Stakes at Churchill Downs. Against an undistinguished field that was devoid of speed, Cash Run opened a clear lead and set a moderate pace. Yet without any pressure on her, she faded in the stretch and lost to a 25-to-1 shot who had never won a stakes race.
Not many other horses have run since the Breeders' Cup, but a supporting race on the Nov. 6 card adds to the evidence about the bias. Sahara Gold won the Eliza Stakes after breaking from post position No. 1 and saving ground until the stretch; she finished eight lengths ahead of Magicalmysterycat, who was parked wide all the way. But when the two fillies had a rematch at Aqueduct, Magicalmysterycat turned the tables and won by a length.
The form reversals have been so dramatic that they do not merely confirm the existence of a bias at Gulfstream Nov. 6. The bias was even stronger than most people imagined at the time, and the performance of horses should be judged in the light of this evidence. Anees ran a truly exceptional race to win the Juvenile by racing wide. Surfside deserved to win the Juvenile Fillies after finishing a close third despite being parked wide around both turns. The 75-to-1 shot Golden Missile probably deserved to win the Classic after making a powerful four-wide move on the turn. In the Breeders' Cup, as on all biased racetracks, results cannot necessarily be accepted at face value.