12/21/2002 1:00AM

Beware of Calder shippers


OLDSMAR, Fla. - It's the horses shipping up from Calder in Miami that horseplayers must reckon with at Tampa Bay Downs, especially in the opening weeks of the meeting.

Veteran players here already know that, but for newcomers and visitors to Tampa Bay Downs it's wise to give Calder runners a long look for several reasons.

Obviously, there are more runners starting here who last raced at Calder than at any other track, but other factors play into the Calder edge, as well. With a bottom claiming price of $12,500 for Calder maidens, horses who might have been overmatched at that level there can race at a $7,500 or $5,000 maiden claiming level here. Calder horses dominate such races here day in and day out.

Also, horses shipping from Calder don't have to make a major adjustment in climate and they don't have to recuperate from long van trips like many of their rivals from up north. On top of that, Calder horses often have a fitness edge over rivals who have been away from racing since the close of their tracks up north. Finally, it seems as though horses from Calder adapt to the Tampa Bay surface well, something that can't be said for some horses coming here from other places.

So beware of Calder runners, especially in the first weeks of the meet.

Another group of runners who might offer longshot payoffs in the early stages of the meeting are horses from Delaware Park. New York-based Daily Racing Form handicapper Dave Litfin already has pointed out the competitiveness of Delaware horses shipping to New York, and players here should also give a long look to horses coming in from that track. The Delaware surface was difficult for many runners this summer, so horseplayers might do well to simply throw out a runner's poor efforts at Delaware, if he has an otherwise consistent record.

Track crew does the job and more

Track superintendent Tom McLaughlin and his crew deserve credit for the outstanding job they did during the recent flooding crisis. While record rainfall forced the track to cancel it's opening weekend, McLaughlin and his crew worked literally around the clock to clear the parking lots and jockeys' room of water, among other things. It should be noted that while portions of the plant were under water, the racing strip drained well and would have been ready for racing on opening day. The turf course absorbed a great deal of moisture and while it was yielding for the meeting's first turf races on Thursday it is lush and thick, has few clods, and is in much better shape than it was at this stage last season.

* Jockey Joe Judice won five races in the opening two days of the meet, while Pedro Rodriguez won four. Juan Umana and Russell Woolsey also are off to good starts.