07/09/2003 11:00PM

Breaking down turf winners' running styles


ELMONT, N.Y. - The wet spring may have dampened Belmont's turf racing program, but two-plus weeks of dry weather has allowed the New York Racing Association to make up for lost time. During the 11 racing days from June 25 through July 9, at least four and as many as six turf races have been carded daily, on ground that has been labeled firm since June 26.

During this period, a total of 50 turf races were equally divided between the Widener (outer) and inner courses. As handicappers might have anticipated, the fields have been large: 32 fields of 10-12 runners, and only two that went with less than seven runners.

For the most part, the fields have been highly competitive during this welcome and long-awaited resurrection. Grass is always fertile ground for double-digit win mutuels, and that has certainly held true during the last fortnight. No less than 27 of the 50 turf winners (54 percent) paid 4-1 or better. For purposes of comparison, just 18 of 58 dirt winners (31 percent) paid that well during the same period.

Looking over running-style trends on the Widener in terms of where the winners were positioned at the pace call, all but one of the races were run at either one mile or 1 1/16 miles (there was one six-furlong dash for babies).

At one mile, where the pace call is at six furlongs (the quarter pole), 4 of 17 winners had the lead - but the majority of winners were stalking types positioned one to three lengths behind. Only two winners made up a pace-call deficit of four lengths or more, and both of them were running third in 10-horse fields at that point and could reasonably be classified as stalkers, too.

The 1 1/16-mile races start out of a different chute, with a longer dog-leg into the backstretch. Even though the distance change is minor, it can have a major influence on the profile. That has been the case so far. Five of the seven winners at this distance were positioned from fifth to eighth at the pace call, including No White Flags, who was able to overcome a 10-length deficit.

Distance has also been a key determinant on the inner course, where races have been run at four distances (only one at 1 3/8 miles). Up-close types have fared well at 1 1/16 miles, and also at 1 1/4 miles. Stretch-runners have dominated the 1 1/8-mile races.

In the four 1 1/16-mile races, where the fields break directly into the clubhouse turn, two winners led at the pace call, another was a head off the lead, and one rallied from four lengths behind.

Up-close horses have also done well at 1 1/4 miles, where seven of the nine winners either led or were within a head of the leader at the pace call. The two exceptions, however, paid $80 and $30.20 after making up respective deficits of four and eight lengths.

Of all the races on either course, closers have had their best chance at 1 1/8 miles on the inner, where 8 of 11 winners overcame pace-call deficits of from three to nine lengths. Seven of the winners were fifth or worse at that point. The lone pace-call leader to hang on was Celtic Memories, a 4-5 shot who lasted by a nose.

State Shinto should win Bowling Green

If State Shinto runs back to his classified allowance win three weeks ago, he wins Saturday's grassy Bowling Green Handicap for red-hot Kiaran McLaughlin.

McLaughlin entered the meet's final two weeks the top percentage trainer at 17 for 36 (47 percent).

Because turf horses bounce less frequently and not as severely as dirt horses, and because so many of McLaughlin's runners have recently shown the resiliency to run two sharp races in succession, State Shinto figures to run right back to the 105 Beyer he earned in his return from Dubai.

Other McLaughlin-trained horses who have held their form include Albaaz, Abreeze, Kathir, Millennium Dragon, Tafaseel, and Lunar Sovereign, to name a few. Most notable in that group is Lunar Sovereign, who Beyered 104 in his allowance comeback win at Belmont, and then missed narrowly in last week's United Nations Handicap despite racing widest of all on the far turn.

The stranger in the field is Thompson Rouge, an import who has raced exclusively in France since the spring of last year.

Thompson Rouge raced once earlier this season, at Longchamp in the Group 3 Prix d'Hedouville, finishing seventh in a slow-paced event at 1 1/2 miles. The race was discouraging on two counts:

Both of his career wins had come when fresh, as a first-time starter at age 2 and off a five-month layoff first time out at age 3. This year's bow, however, was his career-low Timeform rating.

Further, Alan Shuback's foreign stakes round-up in DRF Weekly's April 14-20 issue included a recap of the Prix d'Hedouville that was anything but flattering: "Martaline was improving to win this lackluster Group 3. . . . The winner had won only two allowances from 10 previous starts."