May 11, 2001

Monarchos Bounces Back, Big Time
Millennium Wind? A P (no periods) Valentine? Keats? And, yes, even Balto Star?

Really now? How about that? Aren't computers wonderful?

It was written somewhere once something to the effect that horses and the ratings they earn from their past races are not to be treated as though they were pieces on a gameboard. Kentucky Derby 127 proved out that philosophy, didn't it?

Going into the Derby, Millennium Wind and Keats -- not to mention Balto Star -- were three stone frontrunning horses whose last races all yielded superior pace-and-speed figures and showed them as top-five contenders -- on the simple premise that, hey, if they could merely duplicate that most recent effort, they'd be tough again.

In theory, it works. In the real world, not always.

And so it was for on-paper world-beaters Millennium Wind, Keats and Balto Star. Yes, indeed, run these horses against the clock (without any severe challenges from other horses in the early stages) and they look pretty darn good, routinely registering Grade I Beyer Speed Figures, Quirin final-time numbers, DRF speed ratings, you name it.

But mix them together, then throw in a bunch of stalking and closing horses who can actually pass some horses in the late stages, and suddenly they're running more like maiden-claimers at the end.

That's how it turned out, but it wasn't so easy to predict beforehand, especially for those handicappers (and their software) unable to take the pieces off the gameboard, out of the vacuum and into the 17-horse rough-and-tumble that was the 2001 Kentucky Derby.

Was Millennium Wind going to be able to roll all the way on the lead again, the way he did in the Toyota Blue Grass, his most serious challenge coming from but one horse, a fellow stone frontrunner?

Was Keats going to be able to ramble untouched around both turns, as in his rom p in the Coolmore Lexington?

Was Balto Star going to be able to open daylight down the backside, similar to his two Grade II tours de force in the Spiral Stakes and Arkansas Derby?

As it turned out, all three of those horses and their optimal race scenarios came undone when Songandaprayer relegated them to chasing status in the early stages, sacrificing the entire front while rattling through the fastest or second-fastest early splits in Derby history.

Computers are unmatched for their flawless processing of the numbers, tedious tasks like making track-to-track adjustments, or distance-to-distance measurements, that sort of thing.

However, they do have their shortcomings in predicting whether those numbers fit in the context of the race at hand. It's hard business, but, right now, humans and their fine-distinction judgments tend to do it better.

That explains the overmatched front. But how about the Baffert duo, the brave but ultimately weary Congaree, or the disappointing Point Given?

Congaree, himself a habit of creature on the front end, was the only member of the first flight to have a small say in the outcome at the end. He got the trip he needed, blowing past the front as soon as he could, but it was a tougher task than he'd previously been assigned. Toss in an anxious and panicky ride late from his jockey, and Congaree proved to be no match late.

As for Point Given, he might have been the victim of an overactive ride early. Hustled a few horses wide from post 17, he wasn't burned up by the fractions like the others. However, he was definitely not relaxing, either, like the horses who eventually hit the board or came close. The Point Given who missed by a nose in the previous year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile would have finished closer.

The winner, Monarchos, also fooled the computer. In his race before the Derby, Monarchos chased Congaree in vain, the latter getting an easy frontrunning trip similar to those enjoyed by Millennium Wind, Keats et al. Surely, the race dynamic of 17 horses going a mile and a quarter against a faster pace at Churchill Downs had to be more beneficial than one composed of six horses going nine furlongs on a soft pace at Aqueduct, no?

Darn! The computer couldn't figure it out.

But two races back, Monarchos got a better setup, one much more resembling the kind he'd get in the Kentucky Derby. And it was written here last week that he knew "how to dismantle double-digit-sized fields one horse at a time," the sort of move that typically wins the Kentucky Derby and which Monarchos obviously put in last Saturday.

So the signs were there -- you just had to get past the pieces-on-a-gameboard attitude of the computer and fit the tokens in their proper place. And if you did, you got a 10-1 win mutuel on a horse who looked more like 2-1.

As for Invisible Ink, the runner-up, it also was written here back on March 16 that Invisible Ink had put in a "respectable late burst" in the Florida Derby, and emerged from that race as a maybe-contender for the big Derby. So if you had a long memory (contrary to the Derby eve comments on Invisible Ink here), you got the big exacta.

While this isn't a practical pointer in itself, it does serve as a reasonable lesson in one of the glaring shortcomings of numerical ratings as opposed to a logical analysis utilizing those same ratings.

Much more than weight, wind or ground lost around the turns, it's early position, time and pressure that have the most telling effect on that final-time rating you might choose to use.

So, can Monarchos get the Preakness, too? Wait till we know who's in the race, and how the running will develop, before making any snap judgments. And, of course, you'll get it here first.

Sing a Song of Praise for Your Elders
Granted, the scope of this weekly electronic newsletter has been limited to the annual hooplah surrounding the best three-year-olds in the United States, and while we've enjoyed that beat, dissecting the preps and the actual classics, it's now time to branch out and grow up.

The darling buds of May will wait till next weekend, and standing in their stead this time are the best (or most of the best) handicap horses in training, running tomorrow in the Grade I, $750,000 Pimlico Special at a mile and three-sixteenths at Baltimore.

The rail-out rundown works for the three-and-up crowd as well:

Include - You win seven of your last eight, you have to be doing something right. And now he gets to prove his worth. He's nowhere near even close to being the fastest in this group, but his will to finish first while competing against a variety of scenarios and his final-time consistency through it all suggest he'll put in an honorable run.

Pleasant Breeze - While he looks like an up-front type, he's put in some reasonably competitive efforts when he's had to make up ground. He's faster than Include, no doubt, and rallied welll here last year. He should make things interesting throughout.

Albert the Great - Last year, when he was 3, it might have been a dicier proposition, given his lack of restraint on the lead. But so far in 2001, he's shown a new dimension, and even with the switch in style, his final-time figures haven't lost much in translation.

Milwaukee Brew - No doubt he'll rally, or at least try to. The pace here, while genuine, isn't made up of Kentucky Derby-types, however, and when he ranges up to these guys on the front, they'll probably have something left, perhaps plenty.

Laredo - Here's your rabbit, but the newfound resilience and tractability of 'Albert (as well as the gameness and versatility of Include and Pleasant Breezse) suggest his sacrifice might be unsuccessful.

Seregeant York - The wildcard, though he's two-for-three on non-grass surfaces. However, he seems to have an on-pace style, and being on-pace in England is more like being mid-pack (or worse) in North America.

6. Laredo
5. Sergeant York
4. Milwaukee Brew
3. Include
2. Pleasant Breeze
1. Albert the Great

Pleasant Breeze will have to get the jump on 'Albert, given the former's noted lack of moxie in the late stages. If he can somehow shake loose from the odds-on horse, it'll be worth the risk, especially at the 6-1 on the morning line. 'Breeze is not even in the top three morning-line choices!

Wrapping Up
Don't forget to get involved in this month's outstanding, rewarding and entertaining May Mayhem installment of the Big-Prize Handicapping Contest. You won't be sorry.

Also, for the best in handicapping information and publications, check out the 2001 PARS PLUS book; the C&X Report written by Mark Cramer; and our other super software and instructional titles.

For more information, simply go to the Cynthia Publishing Company Web site and click on the various links right on the home page.

As always, thank you for reading. See you next time, with -- of course -- a big Preakness preview!

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