04/23/2003 12:00AM

Be wary of locals second time back from winter layoff

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - To bounce, or not to bounce? That is the question Woodbine horseplayers should be pondering when they consider the chances of horses making their first start following a big comeback effort.

Local trainers have two options at the end of the Woodbine season, which ended in December last year. Some send their horses away to compete in the United Stakes, but most lay them up on the farm in order to freshen them up for the following year.

Training conditions at Woodbine were difficult for those horses who came back from the farm in February, and many didn't have a thorough foundation to their fitness level when they made their first start of the year.

Many horses who had an interrupted training regimen prior to running a big race off a layoff will regress in their next start, an angle that can be effective for those seeking to identify vulnerable favorites.

A prime example was Honey Green in last Saturday's second race, a second-level allowance for 3-year-old fillies. Honey Green earned a career-high 81 Beyer Speed Figure when she won a first-level allowance in her seasonal bow March 30, but she could only manage third as the 3-2 favorite on Saturday.

Horses who wintered in warmer climes, such as Thats the Problem, are less vulnerable to a bounce because they have more foundation than the locally trained runners. After training in Florida, Thats the Problem returned from an extended layoff and captured his first three races of the meeting. His trainer, Dave Dwyer, won with five of his first six starters here.

Here's another angle that should begin to heat up here soon. Look for horses to rebound with a strong showing after bouncing in their second start back from a break. Chris's Bad Boy fit the pattern last Saturday, when he won a $50,000 claimer by four lengths. Chris's Bad Boy got an 83 Beyer for his sharp runner-up finish in his season opener on March 23, but he managed only a 66 Beyer two weeks later, staggering home a well-beaten second.

Track bias report

April 5: The track was very kind to inside speed, although two wide speed horses - Slot Happy and Grimer - got the job done. The only winner who bucked the bias was Tampa invader Roman Romance, who made an eye-catching wide bid for the lead heading into the turn en route to a three-length score in a classified allowance.

Other horses who ran well against the bias included Jules Rules, Helvetia, Shaker Made, Dawn Edition, Rare Will, Eternally Yours, American Forum, High Supreme, Forever Grand, Pat's Approval, Feet of Flames Warplane, and I'm a Little Nasty.

April 18: Front-runners won only two races on the 11-race card, which was dominated by stalkers and closers. Speed horses who held their own included Magic Forum, Caledon Bound, Tricky Hearts, Bold n' Perfect, Nystar, Deputy Jazz, and Feelitfirst.

April 20: Most of the riders stayed off the inside during the latter portion of the card, and the rail seemingly wasn't the place to be all day long. Horses who fared okay, despite saving ground, included Aguri Shardae, Borabadura, Kirianna, Boldsea, Tahoe Believer, Indian Ground, and Goldleafed Mirror.

Studying the trainers

The 2003 Woodbine Handicapper provides an extensive analysis of 100 Woodbine trainers, information that is an excellent addendum to DRF's trainer statistics.

Many trainers don't crank up their horses early, and the Woodbine Handicapper has chronicled the records of trainers with their first, second, and subsequent starters during the 2001 and 2002 Woodbine meetings.

Trainers who were more effective when their runners had at least one race under their belt here in 2001 and 2002 included Sid Attard, Roger Attfield, David Bell, Mac Benson, Ralph Biamonte, John Cardella, Gail Casselman, Jim Day, Mike Doyle, Scott Fairlie, Mort Hardy, John MacKenzie, Robert Martin, Mike Mattine, Norm McKnight, Tom O'Keefe, Barb Pirie, Lorne Richards, John Ross, Rita Schnitzler, Warren Wilcox, and Mike Wright.

Beware Tampa ship-ins at Fort

With the Fort Erie meeting set to begin Saturday, handicappers should give close scrutiny to shippers from Tampa Bay Downs, who have a huge fitness edge on horses trained exclusively at Fort Erie.

Among the Fort Erie-based trainers who wintered at Tampa were Layne Giliforte, John Simms, Tom Agosti, and Wilf Jones. Simms has won two races at Woodbine this spring with Tampa invaders.