12/09/2007 2:59PM

Contrary on the Inner


Every year, around the same time that bears are going into hibernation, a breed of speed-crazed bettor seems to awake from a long summer-fall nap and starts sending it in on front-runners over the Aqueduct inner track. Playing against them, and the prevailing wisdom that you have to be in front early to win on the inner, is the primary reason I stay in action at Aqueduct during some of the grimmest racing of the year.

I don't dispute that a higher percentage of races may be won by horses on or near the lead, but I believe this is because of the weak and uncompetitive nature of much of the racing, not because some magical anti-closer elixir has been sprayed on the track surface. When you have a statebred maiden race with two fainthearted frontrunners who were competitive for half a mile at Saratoga and Belmont, facing six hopeless opponents with no speed and little ability, you're going to see plenty of strung-out races where the two chronic quitters run 1-2 around the track at 6-5 and 9-5. When this happens, though, the crowd makes the mistake of pronouncing that day's track a super-gold-rail speedway, and begins overbetting frontrunners even more than usual, and in spots where playing against such horses made sense even before the prices went haywire.

I spend enough time in this space chronicling my judgment errors and parimutuel mishaps that I hope you won't mind my detailing a small victory in Saturday's 7th at Aqueduct, an illustration of the above that worked out rather well for me.

The race was an open N1x sprint with a competitive field of 11. The very first horse I drew a big red X through was Tater Tutt, a winner of two straight against much weaker with slightly subpar figures for this level. His even bigger problem was that he is a one-dimensional frontrunner who had gotten easy leads in those races and now would have his hands full with Southern Prince, an unrateable turf sprinter with blazing speed. It was a mutually-destructive duel waiting to happen.

Normally, throwing out two frontrunners who are 5-1 and 12-1 on the line doesn't end your handicapping, but when Southern Prince and Tater Tutt opened as the 2-1 co-favorites of the speed-crazed crowd, drifting only to 5-2 and 9-2, it was time to get involved against them both. I took the only six horses in the race who had any ability to run from off the pace, made a 6x6x6xall dime super for $84 and came back with a six-horse dime super box for another $36. As you can see from the chart of the race, Southern Prince and Tater Tutt hooked up early, were looking for water by upper stretch, and conveniently allowed precisely four of my closers to run past them late. The super paid a delightful $16,158 without even breaking the best way, giving me a 13-1 return for a sloppy, throw-out-the-net bet on the proposition that two shaky and overbet speed horses would run off the board.

I like playing speed-laden races for a meltdown 12 months a year, but it's a play that just seems to return a lot more than it should when it works on the Aqueduct inner. I can not imagine another meet where a Tater Tutt -- who, besides his pace issues had a lifetime Beyer top of 85 that was tied for 7th best in a field of 10 -- would be single-digit odds. On the inner, people seem to think that any horse with a bunch of 1's in his early calls is a prime contender and are terrified to leave him out.

--One race later, with the exception of those who needed Barcola to hang on in the Queens County, was there a racing fan with a heartbeat who wasn't rooting for Evening Attire to get up? Three weeks from his 10th birthday and making his 63rd career start, the 2002 Jockey Club Gold Cup winner came lumbering up on the outside for his first graded victory since the '05 Stuyvesant.

Once a solid gray, Evening Attire's coat is now white, and he has earned other quirks of his seniority. He really can't be bothered to come out of the starting gate too alertly in his dotage, and he'd just as soon not run inside horses. Yesterday though, he broke more cleanly than usual and a looping outside Prado ride worked out just in time to nail Barcola in the last two jumps.

Back in 2002, Evening Attire accomplished the rare (perhaps unmatched?) feat of winning a graded stakes race on all four of New York's NYRA's dirt surfaces: the G3 Aqueduct Handicap on the inner, the G2 Saratoga Breeders' Cup at the Spa, the JCGC at Belmont and the off-the-turf G3 Red Smith on the Aqueduct main track. This was his fifth appearance in the Queens County, which he won as a 3-year-old on Dec. 1, 2001. That came 31 days after his first stakes victory, where he paid $133 after winning the Discovery Handicap by a length over Street Cry.

--Halfway through Sunday's Aqueduct pick-six, I'm still looking for my first winner. The opening leg went to 27-1 Carms Gold Warrior and the third just went to 5-1 Call Me Karakorum over 4-5 Sweet Bama Breeze. I'd make it 3-to-5 we're looking at a two-day carryover into Wednesday.

[Update: No live tickets into the finale, $205k carry to Wednesday, two consos @ $25k each.]