03/31/2004 12:00AM

Blue-collar horses still pay greenbacks


BOSTON - A Sunday afternoon of simulcasting at Suffolk Downs. No live racing. These days, if you want to see live racing in a Boston winter, you have to go to the dogs - Raynham-Taunton greyhounds, or Wonderland.

So at Suffolk you have to settle for 23 signals from other venues - Thoroughbreds, Standardbreds, and the local greyhounds. That's not as good as on Saturdays, when you have 29 signals to choose from, but I suppose it's enough for most bettors.

I wanted to play some tracks that would match the ambience at Suffolk, so I printed out the past performances for Turfway, Philadelphia, and Beulah - three very much blue-collar-type racetracks. I settled down in what passes for a teletheater at Suffolk (a $2 charge for your own carrel and mini-TV) and quickly glanced at the next scheduled event. It was the third race at Philly, and it took only 15 seconds' worth of handicapping to start the day off with a bang.

This was a wretched affair - even by Philly-at-Suffolk standards. It was a $10,000 maiden claiming race for 3-year-old colts and geldings. There was a field of nine going six furlongs, including one first-time starter who was not taking any money at all. Among the remaining eight runners, three looked totally dead, and one other was on life support.

* Crafty Will: Only one lifetime race, and it was at this level. He had trailed the field throughout at odds of 42-1. Beyer: -0.

* Run for the Money: Coming back after a 3 1/2-month layoff. He had raced four times last year at a slightly higher level, failing to beat a single horse in any one of those efforts. Total beaten lengths in those four races: 179 1/2. Average odds: 68-1. Total Beyers: -0.

* Patriota: A near-carbon copy of Run for the Money. In four races during 2003 he never earned a positive Beyer number.

* Getting Grey: On life support. Lifetime Beyer Figures of 13-26-17, but was adding blinkers and Lasix, and showed an improved recent workout. Unfortunately, he hadn't done any running in his races, and showed absolutely no early speed - even in two-turn races. Beaten a total of 54 lengths in his three races, he never took any money at the windows. Even in this pathetic affair you had to throw him out.

That left only three horses that could run at all, and one potentially loose cannon:

* Apollo's Rooks: Had consistent Beyers of 48-49-47 in his last three races. Under normal circumstances you might try to avoid a horse like this who is already 0 for 8 at this level. But against such feeble competition, Apollo's Rooks deserved to be the favorite at 8-5.

* Reno Haines: Dropping from $16,000 maiden races, where he earned Beyers of 34 and 39 in his last two efforts. Logical second choice at 2-1.

* Red Point: The value play at odds of 6-1. In 2003, he ran three races at a higher maiden-claiming level, including a 27 Beyer against better horses at Delaware in November. After a four-month layoff, he returned to the races with a figure of 38 at Laurel in a $14,000 maiden claimer. If he improved at all in his second race back, he would be very dangerous.

* And then there was Extra Wildcat, the loose cannon. If he hadn't taken money at the windows, there would have been little reason to look twice at this race. There would have been no value at all. But Extra Wildcat went off at odds of 7-2. Extra Wildcat had Beyers of 17 and -0 in two lifetime starts; you might well ask why anyone wanted to bet this horse.

I could see a few positives: He was dropping from maiden special weights and $15,000 maiden claiming; he looked like he could be clear on the lead; and he was adding blinkers. Still, despite these recommendations, his Beyers remained far behind the contenders. He had tired badly at five furlongs and 5 1/2 furlongs, losing by a total of more than 39 lengths. The six furlongs might very well hurt his already dubious chances.

Extra Wildcat did indeed grab a clear lead. And he held on to it until they reached the top of the stretch. Then he collapsed, finishing next to last, 27 lengths behind the winner. Red Point, the value horse, outdueled the favorite, Apollo's Rooks, to win by a head, surviving a claim of foul to pay $14.20. Reno Haines struggled along for third, more than two lengths behind Apollo's Rooks. Exacta: $50.20. Trifecta: $110.80.

Bettors are often reluctant to play the starkly obvious in these low-quality races. I can understand their hesitation. But these races for talent-challenged, lightly raced horses frequently repay serious attention. While they may very well be under the radar and even beneath contempt, that doesn't mean you can't make money betting them.