07/01/2002 12:00AM

Buying low pays dividends


CHICAGO - Who says it takes money to make money? Without too much effort, an average Joe could have come up with the dough to buy Storm Witch or Playmera. Then they would be the one shooting for the winner's share of a $32,000 purse in Arlington's Wednesday feature, a second-level allowance sprint for fillies and mares.

Besides those two, six others were entered in the six-furlong race, the eighth of nine on a surprisingly rich mid-week program.

Storm Witch, a 3-year-old, and Playmera, now 5, were different kinds of bargains. Storm Witch is by Twining, a $10,000 stud, and out of a Storm Cat mare, yet somehow she managed to fetch only a $4,000 bid at the Keeneland September yearling sale in 2000.

"You'd have to ask Danny Bird how you come up with a horse like that who can run," said trainer Steve Asmussen.

Bird had Storm Witch for her first two starts, in the spring of 2001, but sold the filly privately when Asmussen's owner, Bill Heiligbrodt, came calling after Storm Witch won a Keeneland maiden race. For Heiligbrodt and Asmussen, she finished third in the $116,000 Three Chimneys Juvenile at Churchill, then needed several months off to get over an injury to her hind foot.

Second on turf in her comeback race at Fair Grounds, Storm Witch then won a Keeneland allowance before finishing a close fourth in the $150,000 Stonerside Stakes at Lone Star.

Playmera toiled in a much more obscure arena, as a low-level claimer at Turf Paradise. Last year, she ran for claiming tags as low as $3,000 while winning only 2 of 15 starts, but this year has been entirely different.

Playmera has won 6 of 7 starts and more than $42,000, and in her last race she won a first-level allowance at Hawthorne by eight lengths.

Playmera had won two straight races when Pat Cuccurullo called a connection in Turf Paradise and asked him to claim the mare for Cuccurullo's owner, Lothenbach Stable.

"He said, 'You want to give $6,000 for that mare?' " Cuccurullo recalled.

Turned out she was a bargain, and if, as Cuccurullo believes, Playmera still is doing well, she has a realistic chance to win again Wednesday.

That's in great part because Playmera is a closer in a race filled with speed elements, one of whom is Storm Witch.

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