02/28/2003 12:00AM

Bias-busters worth following


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Bad weather was responsible for the cancellation of racing at Turfway for most of the last half of February, so handicappers in Kentucky have had to look elsewhere for betting action. For those of us who like track biases, Oaklawn's Feb. 23 card was attractive. The first four races were won by horses who led throughout, with early speed scoring in seven of the 10 races offered.

Anytime a particular running style dominates a race card, handicappers who re-examine those races with the bias in mind should be able to come up with lists of horses to bet on, and horses who should be played against next time. Here are my notes for that card:

It was no surprise that Pocket Phones Baby was able to get loose in the opener. She figured to be the lone speed and made the most of her advantage in a 2 3/4-length victory. The most interesting thing about the outcome was that Antics Upstairs, the second longest price on the board in a field of eight horses at 20-1, rallied from last to get up to finish second. She likes Oaklawn, with a 17-5-6-2 career record, and will be tough at a square price if she catches more of a fair surface next time.

Splashing Jazz had disappointed with a fourth-place finish and a 35 Beyer Speed Figure as the 7-5 favorite in her last pre-layoff start at Hoosier. She was second early, but surrendered and finished last when better things were expected here at 4-1 odds. Her inability to do better despite the bias suggests that she will be vulnerable again second time off the bench.

Bodgiteer woke up in a big way when he dropped in for a $50,000 maiden claiming tag and romped by nine lengths while making his comeback in the second race. The bias didn't hurt, but this front-runner was simply too good for his field and would have won regardless of how the track was playing. Hadley's Victory, the 4-5 favorite, had a good trip while chasing the winner from second, then caved in to finish sixth. He will attract some support next time as a beaten favorite, but not from me.

Joanna's Tuition had dominated $10,000 non-winners-of-two lifetime races with a wire-to-wire win at Oaklawn in her return from absence Feb. 2. She was the speed on the rail in the one-mile third race, and was never caught in a 6 1/2-length win. Pacify, a Retama invader, proved that she fits with $15,000 claiming company on this circuit when she rallied from last of seven to finish second as the longest price on the board at 16-1. She won her last pre-layoff race wire to wire, so she is capable of getting better early position next time.

The disappointment was 5-2 favorite Majestic Special, who was up close, then folded and finished last in her first start since November. The guess here is that she has lost a step or two, so I won't give her the benefit of the doubt when she returns.

Texas Secret was the speed and was taking a class drop from maiden special weight company to the $15,000 maiden claiming ranks in the fourth, and never looked back en route to a 6 1/2-length win. The others with tactical speed filled out the exotics.

Bonobo led by a head over Command Power at the first call, but Command Power edged clear from that rival in deep stretch of the fifth race. Deep closers Risky Sham, 51-1, and Schooling, 27-1, finished only a nose apart in third and fourth, 4 1/4 lengths behind the winner. Both will be interesting betting propositions next time if the bias is kinder to them. Risky Sham is especially interesting since he made good progress in this race making his second start following a five-month layoff, and should continue to move forward.

Unbridled Devotion and Pesto Perfetto deserve credit for their moves from far back to finish third and fourth in the sixth race, a $15,000 maiden claimer for Arkansas-breds at six furlongs. The catch is that Unbridled Devotion has been stuck in the maiden ranks for a long time with a 19-0-1-3 record, and Pesto Perfetto has also taken her time at 18-0-0-4. Nevertheless, there are still reasons for optimism: Unbridled Devotion came much closer than usual while beaten by only two lengths at 13-1, and Pesto Perfetto, who has shown much more tactical speed in her route races, would enjoy a much better trip if she stretches out in distance next time.

The track condition, which had been good through the sixth race, changed to muddy for the rest of the day, but early speed remained strong. Ciao Rhoma was clear early, then drew away to win by 5 1/2 lengths in the seventh race. The horses who chased him in second, third, and fourth were longshots at 77-1, 41-1, and 25-1, so don't give the closers in the field high marks for passing them once they stopped.

Temperence Time rallied from last of eight to finish second behind front-running winner Fan the Flame in the eighth race, but he had won 3 of 4 races on wet tracks coming into this race, so don't upgrade this performance in the mud.

Honor Me dueled, then weakened to finish fourth of six as the 13-10 choice in the ninth race. He was 4-1-1-1 on wet tracks before this race, so the track condition was not an excuse. Downgrade him next time.

Pk's Gal ran an opening quarter-mile in 21.80 seconds, then dominated maiden special weight company in the slop Feb. 9. She probably should not have paid as much as $8.60 in her front-running, six-length win in the nightcap. Woodbine invader What a Smoke finished fourth in this race at 78-1 in her first start since last November. She has much more tactical speed than she showed in this race, so she will deserve respect at attractive odds in the second start of her current form cycle.