07/18/2002 12:00AM

Can you trust cycles in CCA Oaks?

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ELMONT, N.Y. - Whether it's priests, politicians, the Fortune 500, or even Martha Stewart, it's hard to have faith in people and institutions these days. And as the family gathers 'round the TV for another heart-warming episode of "The Osbournes" perhaps you've also noticed that when it comes to form-cycle analysis, it can be unwise to trust the modern-day Thoroughbred any farther than you can throw him.

"Horses aren't as good as they look in victory nor as bad as they look in defeat" goes the old adage, and it is more apropos than ever in this age of one-race wonders and short campaigns. A particularly vexing aspect of form cycles - if such a thing still exists - occurs when a horse comes off a single big race unsupported by anything in its previous record.

When no obvious factor such as a change in surface, trainer, or equipment triggered the explosion, it's natural to feel very uncertain about what's coming next. Some horses will "bounce," but others will come right back with a race that's every bit as good, or even better.

Many players have given up trying to assign any rhyme or reason to these form-cycle fluctuations, and simply base their wagering decisions on the odds. When a pattern of Beyer Speed Figures reads 67-89-42-98-31-100, what's coming today? At a short price, bet against the horse and hope for another clunker; at long odds, take the position that another triple-digit figure might be in store.

When another potentially combustible variable enters the mix, like the 1 1/2- mile distance of Saturday's Coaching Club American Oaks, the waters get murkier still. The last time a 3-year-old stakes race went once around Big Sandy, remember, was last month's Belmont Stakes, and Sarava's 70-1 shocker was the biggest upset in the race's 134-year history.

In last year's CCA Oaks, eight fillies went to the gate, six actually finished, and there were 34 lengths from front to back in a strung-out field. So let's set the over/under at 35 in terms of lengths from first to last, and against our better judgment let's look at the field in post position order and see who might wind up on the front end of the parade.

Jilbab: Here's a prime example of what we're talking about. She ran figures of 56-64-64-62 last year, returned with a 76 despite a stumbling start, and then leapt to a 99 winning her entry-level allowance by a pole.

What's coming now? That 99 is the top figure in the race. Jilbab would be the one to beat if she can run it again, and her Tomlinson distance rating is excellent. On the other hand, she has a big wet-track Tomlinson too, so it may be especially noteworthy that the big-figure win of June 16 came on a drying-out track that had been labeled "good" for the preceding race, and which still retained significant moisture.

Sister Girl Blues: This one is an even tougher call. She won her debut on turf with a 75, and was then thrown into the Hollywood Oaks, where she was 29-1 and ran second with a 92. That's all you have to go on.

What's coming now? Well, the pedigree is questionable for 1 1/2 miles, and so is the lack of experience. Moreover, the Hollywood Oaks field wasn't very strong. The winner, Adoration, had won the Grade 3 Senorita on turf just prior, but her only other dirt victory had come against maidens. The third-place finisher had a record of 1-4-0 from five starts going in, and was still eligible for a first-level allowance.

Tarnished Lady: Follows in the footsteps of stablemate Tweedside, who won this race at 10-1 last year while also coming out of the Sands Point (which had been taken off the turf).

Tarnished Lady appears to have ample conditioning for this marathon after a seven-race campaign that includes five turf routes, the latest a four-wide trip on yielding ground, and she shows a nice pattern of gradual development.

Linda Eder: Trainer David Hofmans was loaded for bear in this race with odds-on Starrer last year, but things unraveled at the break when she stumbled and unseated Chris McCarron.

This filly has improved slowly but surely on turf - grass horses still seem to have far less dramatic figure swings - and she comes off a victory at this distance. Even though that win on June 20 was her fifth straight Beyer "top," however, it still leaves her as the slowest filly in the race.

Jaramar Rain: "She's by a Belmont winner out of a mare by a Belmont winner," trainer Rusty Arnold pointed out, and indeed, her sire, Thunder Gulch, also sired 2001 CCA Oaks winner Tweedside.

She's a three-time route winner, which is something no one else in this field can say. But the one disturbing item in her record is the 16-length loss in the Dogwood, which is her only prior stakes attempt. "She didn't run a step in the Dogwood," said Arnold. "If she had run just a step, we may have come back in the Mother Goose."

That might have been a good move, because Jaramar Rain rebounded with a new top of 89 winning her second-level allowance condition on July 3, and such an effort would have contended strongly in the Mother Goose a few days earlier.

Shop Till You Drop: Also by Thunder Gulch. She jumped up with a new top figure (88) in the Black-Eyed Susan her first time back from a layoff that was nine points better than her previous best, and paired up with another 88 at Delaware in a losing cause three weeks ago. She has been the pace-call leader in all four starts wearing blinkers, but has been past 1 1/16 miles only once.

Chamrousse: The field's only graded stakes winner. She has been atypically consistent with in-the-money finishes in all seven starts, the last five in graded stakes company. The flip side to that dependability is that she hasn't done much developing. After running an 85 to begin her career last fall, she returned to run an 89 at six furlongs first time out at age 3, and then went 93-95-96 when stretched out to 1 1/16 miles.

It's difficult to envision a granddaughter of speed influence Mt. Livermore getting 12 furlongs, though, especially since her figures have fallen off slightly at 1 1/8 miles in her last two starts.