02/03/2005 12:00AM

An all-Pletcher double that could pay quite well

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Basketball coaches regularly acknowledge the importance of depth, particularly early in a season. Teams that can go 10 deep or more with quality players can practice all out in five-on-five scrimmages for their first games, unlike teams with fewer top-flight athletes. This leaves them better prepared.

Trainers with a deep bench of runners similarly possess an advantage with young horses. They can regularly work their horses in company, and trade out work partners based on talent level and fitness. Trainers with smaller barns often do not have the same luxury without the difficulty of lining up company from another stable to work with their horses.

As a result, trainers with large stables often have an easier time getting their horses fit. And when it is time to run, these trainers are often able to select an appropriate race for the horse in part by using its workmates as measuring sticks.

These advantages contribute to the success of trainer Steve Asmussen when his 2-year-olds begin running in Texas and Kentucky in the early spring, and they appear to be working to the benefit of trainer Todd Pletcher at the current Gulfstream meet. Through Thursday's card at Gulfstream, he had 5 wins, 1 second, and 3 thirds with 12 starters in maiden races for 3-year-olds. Of those five winners, two were first-time starters and three were second-time starters.

They were not as chalky as one might guess. Four of the five started at odds of 5-2 or more, and one went off at more than 10-1.

Saturday, Pletcher has a second-time starter named Coin Silver entered in the first race at Gulfstream, providing an opportunity to play this angle. Although he showed little in his debut when finishing fourth at Belmont last July 5, Coin Silver fits the profile for a Pletcher youngster that should improve dramatically.

He needs to. His lone start resulted in a 10-length defeat in a race that took place nearly seven months ago. He earned a 43 Beyer Speed Figure, which is far behind the recent numbers of his opponents.

In comparison, Watchmon, who picks up Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey, earned an 81 Beyer in running second in his debut at Aqueduct on Nov. 27. Tigerline, an Unbridled's Song colt who sold for $1.4 million as a yearling, ran a 74 Beyer when third despite a slow break in his debut at Keeneland on Oct. 27.

I question whether Coin Silver is ready to improve 40 Beyer points - which he may need to do to win this race - but he certainly has a favorable trend on his side. Of Pletcher's three 3-year-olds that won maiden races here in their second career starts, two took massive leaps forward. Just as Ready, switched from dirt to turf Jan. 20, improved from a 50 Beyer to an 83. Bandini jumped from a 46 to an 86 in winning a maiden race Jan. 6.

Coin Silver's works also indicate he has more talent than he showed in his debut, when he was soundly beaten by stablemate Vicarage, who is running later in the card in the Grade 2 Hutcheson. None of his recent Palm Meadows drills has registered as bullets, but they have been consistently fast.

He recorded the 10th fastest Palm Meadows four-furlong gate work Jan. 16, going 48.40 seconds, the same time posted by a Fusaichi Pegasus colt named Wall Street, who ran a close third for Pletcher in a maiden race Jan. 29 at Gulfstream.

Coin Silver's last work Jan. 30, five furlongs in 1:00, was faster than the times posted by several Pletcher-trained winners that morning, including Grade 1 winner Proud Accolade.

That does not put him in that class, not by a long stretch. Works are merely practice. But they do seem to point that he is a better horse than what the past performances suggest. That makes him a probable overlay.

I will play him to win, box him in exotics with Watchmon and Tigerline, and use him in the opening half of the daily double.

Beware of Malheur

Pletcher's 3-year-olds have similarly performed well in Gulfstream allowances, which could point to more winners on Saturday's card. His 3-year-olds are 3 for 6 in allowances this meet. All three winners returned following layoffs.

Following that angle, Malheur could be dangerous at a price in the second race. Already a winner at the race's seven-furlong distance, he is dropped in class following a fifth in the Huntington Stakes at Aqueduct on Nov. 14.

He should offer value in a large field that includes four recent maiden winners, including the promising Survivalist.