11/26/2003 1:00AM

Creating value on obvious plays

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BOSTON - We see them every day: horses who have recent speed figures that are consistently superior to their competition. Perhaps, since the straight price seldom offers any value, the best alternative is to pass on these all-too-obvious figure-horses.

But you should at least explore the possible options on these Beyer layovers, because there are times when a deeper look, combined with some shrewd betting, can turn these runners into big-value plays. This was never better demonstrated than in last Saturday's early daily double at Philadelphia Park.

Sideofhappy looked overwhelming in the first race. At this level of maiden claiming ($12,500) his Beyers of 45 and 37 in his only two lifetime races were well beyond what any of his rivals had run. Although there were a few first-time starters to worry about, Sideofhappy looked like a very solid favorite. He had no apparent negatives. He had been running well at this class level, and at the same distance. He had no gaps in his form. He had good early speed, at least for this woeful group. And he had not exhausted himself in any recent stressful races - so there appeared to be little chance of any bounce. Of course, with all this on the positive side of the ledger, Sideofhappy was a predictable 3-5 in the betting.

The second race looked a lot more competitive. But the daily double prices showed that the public was making Happy Apple an overwhelming favorite. Happy Apple was just the kind of underlay you want to avoid. She had frequent gaps in her form, and now was coming off a six-week layoff. She was dropping sharply in claiming price. And she had very little early speed in a field without much pace. Her most recent Beyers of 42-56-41 were hardly overpowering. In fact, her even-money status could only be justified if you could see her reproducing that 56 figure - an extremely dubious proposition considering all the warning signs in her form.

If you could beat Happy Apple in the second race, you might be able to make something valuable out of the apparently valueless Sideofhappy in the first.

In this field of seven, you could confidently eliminate two horses on the basis of their totally inadequate Beyers. That left five contenders, including the dicey-looking Happy Apple. Here are the other four runners:

R Sassy Lady: As consistent as they come, with recent Beyers of 43-45-43-42-44. Also as uninspiring as they come. But in this lowly bunch she had to be used.

Devil's Chasm: Another consistent mare, with recent figures of 42-41-42. Two serious drawbacks, however. She had absolutely no early speed, and troublesome gaps in her form.

Belle Sherri: A bit weaker on recent Beyers (38-26-32), and she also had some disturbing gaps. But she had a few strong countervailing pluses. She could very well be the only speed in this field of talentless plodders, she had back Beyers that were competitive, she had done well to earn her most recent 38 while chasing a reasonably fast pace in the mud, and she was adding blinkers.

Slipstich: Back in the summer she had turned in Beyers of 62 and 56. She had then sunk by stages down to a figure of 23 on Oct. 14. She bounced back to a 41 on Oct. 26, but then failed to sustain that improvement, tossing in a lethargic 30 Beyer on Nov. 6. If you could ignore or excuse that race for such a cheap filly and emphasize her positives (some early speed, back Beyers that were very strong, the possibility that she could continue her interrupted cycle, and the wretched quality of her competition), you would have to include her in your daily double play.

You could hardly take a strong stand with any single one of these horses. You had to use all four of them, taking a strong position against the absurdly overbet Happy Apple, and hope for the best.

Sideofhappy won the first race without too much trouble. In the second race, Slipstich took a clear early lead and then had to battle head and head down the stretch with the chaser, Belle Sherri. Belle Sherri had a brief advantage nearing the wire, but Slipstich came back again to win by a nose. The favorite, Happy Apple, closed very late to fall short by only a length. The daily double with the 12-1 Slipstich returned a remarkable $91.60. So, with a little exploration and a little imagination, the Beyer layover at odds of 3-5 was transformed into a 10-1 return on your investment.

The same card at Philadelphia Park produced three other Beyer layovers. In the eighth race, Valley of the Gods had recent Beyers of 80-81-80, which towered over his rivals. He won by six lengths at odds of 1-5. In the ninth race, Smarty Jones crushed his opposition by 15 lengths at odds of 3-5. And in the 10th race, Crowded Meadow won by a little more than a length at 6-5. You might have tried the pick three here (although it ended up paying a ridiculous $12.60). But the exactas in the ninth and 10th offered some better value.

In the ninth, for example, the second choice was Seaver, with a Beyer of only 67 in his maiden-winning race. Three other runners actually had higher recent Beyers, but Seaver ended up as a 3-1 underlay simply because the public loves to bet his high-reputation trainer, Anthony Dutrow. While the winning exacta ended up paying only $15.60, a Seaver-less ticket turned the 3-5 Smarty Jones into a 2-1 or 3-1 payoff.

These horses with layover Beyers - not just a single big last-race figure, but a steady recent record of superior numbers - are always worth further examination. They shouldn't be passed over simply because of their invariably short prices. With a little digging, and a little wagering flair, you might turn some of these layovers into big-value plays. And we can all use an occasional bit of alchemy to brighten the profit side of our ledgers.