12/11/2003 1:00AM

Cross out the non-Kentucky-breds


FLORENCE, Ky. - Handicappers wagering on trifectas must regularly decide which horses to cut from their tickets. The less one spreads in a race, the lower the cost of the multi-horse wager.

Choosing whom to cut is often difficult, but in maiden special weight and allowance races at Turfway, the choice is clear: Cut any horse not bred in Kentucky.

That rule is dictated by economics, not pedigrees. Kentucky-bred horses typically have the best bloodlines and prove to be the most successful runners. But top-level horses are bred in many other states, sometimes even from the states one would least expect.

But a maiden or allowance purse at Turfway is less appealing to an owner or trainer of a non-Kentucky-bred horse because of the purse structure. Consider a straight maiden race there. The purse is $23,900, which is within several thousand dollars of what tracks like Hawthorne, Fair Grounds, and Calder offer for similar races at this time of year. But that $23,900 purse for a maiden race at Turfway includes $9,400 in money eligible only to Kentucky-bred horses. A maiden bred in Florida, for example, would run for a $14,500 purse at Turfway.

The proportion is similar in allowance races, which are also sweetened by funds for Kentucky-breds. Purses for claiming races and maiden claiming races do not include a Kentucky-bred bonus.

So how can handicappers profit by understanding the purse structure? By viewing the race from the perspective of an owner or trainer.

Few horsemen want to blow a condition on a $14,500 pot, when a richer race is on the horizon.

When they opt to run a non-Kentucky-bred in a straight maiden or allowance race, they often are running for reasons other than the purse. They might be prepping for a race at Oaklawn Park, which begins in late January. They might feel their horse needs racing experience and is not ready to win right away. Or they may simply be running because there are few lucrative statebred options available to them in states like Indiana or Ohio.

Whatever the reasons, what ultimately matters is that non-Kentucky-breds have performed poorly in maiden and allowance races at Turfway. Since the meet began, an average of a little more than two non-Kentucky-breds have run per day, combining for a 16-0-0-2 record in maiden special weight and allowance races. Fourteen of those horses finished fifth or worse, meaning they are good horses to strike from the trifecta and superfecta.

Post position bias nonexistent

At this early stage in the Turfway meet, the track has not shown a post position bias. Horses have won from all over the racetrack in sprints and routes.

At most tracks, horses breaking from the inside posts have an advantage in routes because they have a short run to the first turn. Bettors tend to play these horses a bit more, so there may be a bit of value to be found on horses with outside posts in routes at Turfway, provided this trend continues.

Bejarano way ahead in standings

Rafael Bejarano, 19 for 61 on the meet, is dominating the rider standings at Turfway. Only two other riders, Jason Lumpkins and Justin Shepherd, have as many as six winners. Lumpkins is 6 for 45 and Shepherd is 6 for 31.

Whenever a rider gets as hot as Bejarano, the demand for him increases. His agent, Steve Elzey, has regularly been the agent for the leading rider at Turfway, and this winter, he appears to be in that position again.

As well as Bejarano has done this meet, a bettor would not have been able to profit simply by betting his mounts blindly. His $2 return on investment is $1.83.

Lumpkins and Shepherd have returned less at the betting windows, illustrating that horseplayers should bet horses, not jockeys. Lumpkins has a $0.83 ROI, and Shepherd has a $1.73 ROI.

Lumpkins should heat up in the coming weeks. He rode in California instead of Kentucky this fall, which cost him quality mounts during the early part of Turfway meet. Now that he is back riding in Kentucky, more opportunities should come his way.

Following the same schedule at Turfway last winter, he began slowly during the holiday meet and caught fire soon after the start of the year.