ELMONT, N.Y. -- "They're one-dimensional animals," trainer Richard Mandella said. "You can't change their style to fit the track."
That's easy for him to say. Mandella's Breeders' Cup horse is in the Sprint, in which they'll go where they're looking.
But don't try to tell Buddy Delp that Dispersal is a one-dimensional horse. Not until after the $3 million Classic tomorrow, anyway.
In his published remarks about Dispersal's No. 12 post position in the oblique start of the 1 1/4 -mile race, Delp was a model of equanimity. "He was mad," said Herman "Mo" Hall, who has observed and suffered, since the pre-Spectacular Bid days in Maryland, all the kinds of mad Grover Greer Delp can get.
Yesterday was Mo's 63rd birthday, but he was up early and had Dispersal ready long before the trainer's 7 a.m. arrival. Dispersal's bushy chestnut tail was meticulously combed out, his wood-shaving bedding spotless, and his empty feed tub lay at hand for Delp's perusal.
"All OK," Mo said to shadowy forms passing in the dark outside Sid Watters' barn, "but we got the bad hole." Delp would call it "the dreaded 12 hole" when he arrived, smiling.
The Classic, the richest race since man stood erect, is run at the quintessentially American distance of 1 1/4 miles of dirt, and this year it is being run on the only 1 1/2 -mile dirt track in the world.
Alfred Vanderbilt, now 78 and nearly blind, had the foresight when they were rebuilding Belmont Park's plant in 1963 to suggest re-casting the historic track at nine furlongs, the most practical configuration. The traditionalists insisted on tradition.
Now they start 10-furlong races on the first turn, which is a bad idea for the same reasons mile races at Pimlico would be a bad idea: A bunch of horses all accelerating and turning left could stumble and tumble all over each other.
Standing in the 20-yard niche the New York Racing Association has made for the starting gate, one does not see room for the 14 horses in the Classic to round that first turn together.
"Well, they won't all go at once," Vanderbilt said yesterday. That was the way Delp was choosing to look at the situation in the cool dawn.
"A lot of them are going to wait and come from way out of it," Delp said. "Because that's the way they go. Beau Genius and Nick Zito's horse [Thirty Six Red] will come out running, because that's their only chance."
So will Izvestia, the Canadian Triple Crown winner, and the English Ibn Bey, who have the 1-2 posts. Those are the speed, but none is as fast as Dispersal, who won the NYRA Mile at Aqueduct in 1:32 4/5 a year ago and set six- and nine-furlong records at Arlington Park in midsummer.
In the Woodward on Oct. 15, Dispersal amazed Delp and jockey Chris Antley. Coming out of the gate he "grabbed a quarter" -- cut his left front leg with his right hoof. "There was a puddle of blood in the winner's circle," Delp said. Dispersal cracked a hoof in the process, yet won in 1:45 4/5, taking a full second off the Belmont record for nine furlongs.
Such is his speed, but if Antley "uses" it to stay abreast of Izvestia and Thirty Six Red around that first curve, what will be left for the stretch?
"We're dealt a bad hand," Delp said, producing an envelope and a ballpoint pen, "but we can do this: Assuming my horse breaks well, the speed will be maybe two or three lengths ahead when we get to here [the beginning of the backstretch].
"If I can get to the mile pole comfortable," Delp said, "I'm the horse to beat. My horse is not just speed; he can rate."
To "rate" a horse is to restrain him subtly so as to conserve his speed for the competitive "drive" to the finish. Angel Cordero rated Dispersal in the NYRA Mile, Delp said.
It is difficult to see rating in a horse that went in 1:08 3/5 for the first three quarters. "He did," Delp insisted. "Cordero had him third for a while." That interlude does not show in the chart, which has Dispersal third only at the start.
Delp recalled owner Harry Meyerhoff's horror that Dispersal was two lengths in front after a half-mile of the Woodward in :45 1/5. " 'He's just breezing [as in a morning work],' I told him," Delp recalled. "The others weren't. Criminal Type's whip was up before they turned for home; so was Thirty Six Red's."
So in Delp's plan Dispersal can be only about five wide and no more than three lengths back when they straighten. "Do we sit and watch them then? That's a decision Antley will have to make."
Some of the horses by then, Delp figures, will be "steadying" -- trying to stabilize from the effects of tight quarters. He has agreement from Charlie Whittingham, who is content with 8-1 Lively One's No. 11 post.
"My horse comes from behind," Whittingham said, "so we're probably all right. If they all go [at the start], somebody's in trouble."
"If they don't," Zito said of his 15-1 Thirty Six Red, "we may keep going. No, I don't like No. 3. But it beats the hell out of 14, doesn't it?"
Unbridled is out there. He won the Kentucky Derby after being squeezed far back at the start, but trainer Carl Nafzger's sympathies were for Delp. He'd be "throwing up" in Delp's situation, Nafzger said.
Delp, Whittingham and several other horseman pointed out that the NYRA had two years to prepare for the Breeders' Cup after the Oak Tree (Santa Anita) Association turned it down.
Delp and Whittingham said the NYRA easily could have re-created the 1 1/4 -mile chute that was abandoned the year after the 1975 Great Match Race in which the filly Ruffian was mortally injured.
"The Ruffian thing wasn't the reason," Whittingham said. "They had races out of that chute for over 50 years, didn't they? And nobody was killed."
Alfred Vanderbilt had what he called a "simpler" suggestion. "They could make it a mile-and-a-half race," he said.