06/24/2004 12:00AM

Ashado or Island Sand? Tough call.


ELMONT, N.Y. - So when was the last time a Bobby Frankel-trained stakes horse was the low last-out Beyer Speed Figure horse in a race?

It is true of Miss Coronado, and it is just one of several fascinating aspects to Saturday's Mother Goose Stakes.

Miss Coronado has been freshened for two months since running fourth at 4-5 in a second-level allowance on yielding turf. Meanwhile, everyone else is coming off a lifetime top effort strictly in terms of the Beyers, and the probable first two betting choices, Ashado and Island Sand, are coming off multiple tops.

If this were a run-of-the-mill claiming race, it would have all the earmarks of a "bouncefest." But the chances of that lessen considerably when dealing with graded stakes runners, particularly such consistent ones as Ashado and Island Sand, who have finished worse than second exactly once from 17 combined starts.

Ashado has raced exclusively in Grade 1 and Grade 2 races ever since her maiden win at Belmont last June, Beyer 93. She eclipsed that figure only once in her five subsequent starts as a 2-year-old, earning a 95 for her runner-up finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. When she surpassed her 2-year-old top with a 97 second time out this year, it was a strong sign of continued development, and she improved again four weeks later to run down Madcap Escapade in the Kentucky Oaks. Beyer 102.

Island Sand's second-place finish to Ashado in the Oaks was her third straight Beyer top, and she came back to win the Acorn five weeks later with yet another forward move - her fourth in a row - to a 101.

Figure pattern analysts who prefer Ashado will reason that she has had nearly two months off since the Oaks and has never lost when fresh, so she may be less likely to regress than Island Sand, she of the quadruple tops.

Then again, those who prefer Island Sand can argue that though she has raced since the Oaks while Ashado has not, she has run only three times in the last five months and also has the "recent race over the track" angle in her favor.

Perhaps the most perplexing aspect of the Mother Goose is who will be on the lead because there really is no clear-cut pacesetter. Ashado, Island Sand, Miss Coronado, and Society Selection have won on the lead or attempted a front-end heist, but none has shown an inclination to do so recently. When Miss Coronado wired the Davona Dale, it was through crawling fractions (24.48 seconds, 49.13, 1:14.11). When Society Selection tried to wire the Bonnie Miss at odds of 1-2, she was outkicked and settled for second.

Even though she has been positioned next-to-last in each of her last two races, don't be surprised if Island Sand winds up in front early, if only by default. She has natural speed, having forced the action from post 11 in the Fantasy three starts back, and importantly, she is drawn immediately inside Ashado, who has made her living as a stalker, so her hand may be forced.

Island Sand might have been next-to-last early in the Oaks and the Acorn, but the Oaks featured a pace-call fraction of 1:09.99 that was absolutely blazing, so hot that it graded out as the equivalent of what Pico Central and Strong Hope recently put up in the Carter and the Met Mile. Consider that earlier on the same card the Alysheba Stakes went 1:12.14 to the pace call, and the Louisville Breeders' Cup Handicap had a 1:12.77 split.

The Acorn was also a hotly contested affair, with five fillies within a length of each other contesting the lead in the first quarter, and a second quarter that went in a blistering 22.43 seconds.

We know from the Oaks result and their typical figures that Ashado and Island Sand are very close in terms of ability. Their renewal of combat in the Mother Goose is likely to unfold through a fascinating game of cat-and-mouse.

Nuggets on 2-year-old turf races

The kids may be off for the summer, but bettors looking to get an edge on 2-year-old turf racing at Saratoga can go to school at Belmont in July.

Every July there are a handful of six-furlong turf sprints for juvenile maidens, and they have been the launching pad for eventual stakes winners Riskaverse, Baptize, Strategic Partner, Lismore Knight, and most recently Timo and Artie Schiller - the latter currently the top 3-year-old turf horse in the East, bar none.

The aforementioned all won July turf sprints here the past four years, but the also-rans will also bear watching, notably the ones who finish with gusto and then stretch out to two turns at the Spa with suitable route pedigrees.

A review of the last five years' worth of July turf sprints, 22 of them in all from 1999-2003, yields the following additional nuggets to keep in mind:

* Bill Mott has saddled five winners - three second-time starters and two first-timers. Even though Mott has won with only 3 percent of his new first-time starters overall during his most recent 100-plus race sample, ignore that stat in these situations at your own risk.

* Next in line are Todd Pletcher with three winners who all were first-time starters and Bill Badgett with two wins, both second-time starters.

* Dynaformer, Grand Slam, and El Prado are the only sires to have had two winners.

* Early-pace types can win, as seven winners led or pressed the early pace. But late-running types more than hold their own: 13 winners were fourth or farther back at some point, and six among them were at least six lengths behind the early leader.