11/12/2003 12:00AM

Always overplay against the underlay

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BOSTON - Why was the public betting on Back Bay Lady?

Perhaps it was because of her trainer, George Weaver, a former assistant to star trainer Todd Pletcher. The connection has brought Weaver a certain celebrity status early in his career.

Perhaps it was the jockey, John Velasquez, whose close connection to Pletcher has helped make him the leading rider in New York.

Or it could have been the superficial appeal of Back Bay Lady's recent form, with running lines that showed her closing well to finish second and third in her previous two sprints.

But a close look at the Beyer Speed Figures of Back Bay Lady would expose the above recommendations as mainly cosmetic and misleading. Even in this mediocre field of New York-bred fillies and mares, her Beyers looked too weak to get the job done.

In this nine-horse sprint at Aqueduct on Nov. 2, Back Bay Lady's most recent Beyer Figures of 56 and 55 were only marginally competitive. In fact, five runners had last-race Beyers of 59 or higher. In addition, Back Bay Lady had not started in six weeks, and had frequent gaps in her form, which indicated some sort of physical problem. But the most discouraging Beyer pattern in her form was the lack of improvement from her 2-year-old season to her current 3-year-old campaign.

More than a year ago, on Oct. 20, 2002, she had earned a 55 Beyer. Then, five races and nearly four months later she won her maiden with another 55. Six months later she returned to the races and ran poorly on a sloppy Belmont surface - an excusable effort. Another layoff of six weeks followed, and then she earned her most recent figures of 55 and 56.

You'll never find a clearer case of arrested development. She showed no improvement at all in the critical transition from 2 to 3 years old. So you couldn't reasonably expect a change in this pattern of stagnation on Nov. 2 - despite the weakness of her opposition.

The other contenders were:

Ruby Essence. In six out of her last seven dirt races she had earned Beyers between 53 and 59 - consistent, if mediocre. But she had two major negatives. Like Back Bay Lady, she showed little likelihood of imminent improvement, and she was a slow-starting closer in a field without much pace.

Zat Darn Cat. Her most recent Beyers of 57 and 61 gave her some chance in this field, and she had enough early speed to stay close to the pacesetters. Uninspiring, but usable in exactas and trifectas.

Puma's Pride. She had improved from 49 to 61 to 68 in her most recent races. That 68 was a clear lifetime best, and was earned at seven furlongs after a hard, stressful, stretch-long battle. She lost by only a half-length against a field similar to today's group. But she was a 3-year-old filly with two hard recent races, and coming off a peak effort, making her a definite candidate for a big bounce.

Belle Angel. This shipper from Philadelphia and Penn National was the clear speed of the race. Her recent Beyers of 61-53-51-63 made her highly competitive in this race. With a clear lead against a weak bunch, she should have been able to hang around for at least a piece of the purse. The key to value.

Fly With Karakorum. The logical favorite. Back in the summer she had improved her Beyers from 26 to 45 to 58 to 74. And she had earned that 74 impressively at Saratoga four starts earlier, losing by only a head at 14-1. That race apparently took something out of her, since her Beyer dropped to a 59 in her next start. Still, she finished second and then improved in her next race to a Beyer of 71. That improvement did not continue in her next race and most recent start (a Beyer of only 65). But there were a couple of extenuating circumstances: that last race was at seven furlongs, not at this day's six furlongs, which she seemed to prefer. And she had to challenge from the outside post 12. In today's race she figured to have a much easier trip, sitting in a good relaxed position just behind Belle Angel.

Although Back Bay Lady did not end up as the favorite, she was seriously overbet, at one stage dropping to 5-2 in the wagering. She closed at 3-1, with Fly With Karakorum

finally emerging as the deserving 8-5 favorite. Belle Angel, the lone speed, was good value at 5-1, and the exacta of Fly With Karakorum over Belle Angel was paying more than $50 (early in the betting it was as high as $76). So, if you could get Back Bay Lady out of the mix, you could be looking at a tidy score.

Fly With Karakorum did her job. She chased Belle Angel around, passed her in midstretch, and drew off to win by more than three lengths. A simple repeat of her previous-race Beyer of 65 was good enough to trounce this field. Belle Angel also did her job, grabbing an early lead and holding on well - until the sixteenth pole, when she began to weaken. She ended up finishing third. Her Beyer dropped to a 53 - very disappointing. Puma's Pride bounced all the way down to a 20. And the (formerly) ultra-consistent Ruby Essence, another horse I used underneath Fly With Karakorum, never made a move.

Back Bay Lady sat an absolutely perfect pocket trip, did very little running, and virtually repeated her previous Beyers. Unfortunately, with all the disappointing performances by other contenders, her Beyer of 57 allowed her to stagger in for second. Still, my small saver exacta ($22) and a decent-sized trifecta ($89) made the whole exercise worthwhile. The Beyers of the overrated Back Bay Lady provided a small push in this otherwise unremarkable race. And her underlay status helped make Fly With Karakorum a slightly inflated price, plus made Belle Angel the value play. The outcome was somewhat disappointing, but the opportunity was there. Identifying opportunities in such ordinary events - that's the key to day-to-day, long-term success.