03/25/2004 1:00AM

Avoid temptation to play overbet Florida shippers


LOUISVILLE - Handicappers looking for an indication of how Gulfstream Park shippers will fare this spring got a signal Wednesday evening at Turfway Park. Of five shippers from Gulfstream, three won, another ran second, and one was unplaced.

So why I am eager to wager against the next batch from south Florida? Because the betting public expects them to win like No. 1 seeds facing No. 16 seeds in the NCAA basketball tournament.

Three of the five Gulfstream shippers at Turfway on Wednesday started as favorites and each of the five went off at odds of 3-1 or less. To see if this trend extended beyond one program, I researched how all Gulfstream invaders have performed at Turfway since they began starting shipping northward in mid-February.

The numbers suggest that the 3-for-5 success of Gulfstream shippers on Wednesday was out of the ordinary. Including that night, horses who last raced at the current Gulfstream meet are 6-5-4 in 27 starts at Turfway since Feb. 15.

That translates to a 22 percent win rate and 56 percent in the money. But four of the six winners started at odds of 6-5 or less, which contributed to a $2 return on investment on the 27 starters of $1.53.

These Gulfstream invaders are regularly better than their Turfway counterparts, but not so classy that they are worth betting at short prices. Remember, 78 percent of them still lost, a fact that was reinforced on the Lane's End card at Turfway.

Birdstone was favored at 3-5 odds in the Lane's End, and finished fifth. El Prado Rob and Pies Prospect were 3-5 as part of a Nick Zito-trained entry in the Rushaway, and ran fourth and fifth. Wulpe went off at even money in the Hansel Stakes, and ran a distant third.

One Gulfstream invader was successful on the day, Glorious Miss, who triumphed at odds of 7-1 in the Queen Stakes. Her large price was inflated by the presence of another Gulfstream shipper in the race, and another who had been training in Florida over the winter.

That raises another point. These numbers reflect only those that raced at Gulfstream in 2004 before running at Turfway. Horses who merely train in Florida also seem to take too much betting action when they head north to Kentucky.

Bettors see workouts from places like Palm Meadows, Payson Park, and Gulfstream, and automatically assume the horse possesses a class edge, even if he has not raced for a long period.

Old Deuteronomy and Ebony Breeze were beaten at short prices on the Lane's End undercard returning from layoffs with nothing more than workouts from Florida.

Gulfstream runners still represent the cream of the East. If they were bet like horses shipping from a blue-collar track such as Hawthorne, they would merit play. But that is not going to happen - not today, not tomorrow, not ever.

The public bets them like they are going to produce a peak effort when facing easier company at Turfway. That is not always the case.

Of the 27 sampled Gulfstream shippers, 16 regressed or ran the same Beyer Speed Figure they had in their preceding start in Florida. Excluding one horse who transferred from turf to dirt and dropped 70 Beyer points, the 26 other runners produced an average Beyer that was roughly one point below their preceding race in Florida.

Following Wednesday night at Turfway - which may result in even more bettors hammering Gulfstream shippers - my betting strategy for Kentucky racing in the coming weeks will be to play against south Florida invaders on the basis that they will be overbet. My focus will be to prefer shippers from Fair Grounds and the Northeast, while also supporting the better Kentucky-based runners.