07/21/2004 11:00PM

Crown lies uneasy next out


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The Claiming Crown is over, but its impact will still be felt in the coming weeks. Many of those that shipped to Canterbury to run in the Claiming Crown last Saturday will return to their home bases and compete in more typical starter allowance and claiming contests. Some of the more successful runners might even try other stakes races.

In preparation for these horses returning to action, I checked the past performances of all the Claiming Crown starters over the past three years and tracked how they fared in their first start following the Claiming Crown.

With many of them returning in less demanding races, I anticipated strong results. Instead, the group underachieved. Thirty-one of the 172 horses (18 percent) came back to win their next start. A little more than 46 percent hit the board.

The return on investment was dismal - an average of $1.46 for every $2 bet, even with one winner at 31-1 in the sample group. Somewhat surprising in light of the low ROI is that those who were among the favorites next out were not overbet. Those that returned to race at odds of less than 3-1 did well, winning 40 percent and generating a $1.96 ROI.

It was the middle-priced runners and longshots that brought down the numbers.

What happened? My guess is that many struggled to find the right spot after the Claiming Crown. Most tracks regularly offer low-end to mid-level starter races, but higher-level starter races are much harder to find. So some of the upper-level Claiming Crown runners couldn't find a favorable starter allowance when they returned home.

A long ship might have wiped out some. And others might simply have run poorly in their next race because they were losing their form, something that may have been signaled by a poor race in the Claiming Crown.

When these Claiming Crown runners return, the obvious strategy should be to respect those that look good in terms of class, speed, and form. As for those that struggled at the Claiming Crown without an apparent excuse, a sound practice will be to play against them - knowing that past results suggest these types tend not to reverse their form.

Turf opportunities

Canterbury shined with the Claiming Crown last week. A week earlier, Calder was in the national spotlight with the Summit of Speed.

Now the focus shifts to Del Mar, Saratoga, and, to a lesser extent, Arlington Park. Del Mar and Saratoga offer the best racing in the country, while Arlington features the Arlington Million, Beverly D, and Secretariat - three of the best turf races in the country.

Beyond this big three - Ellis Park and Colonial Downs are also intriguing tracks to handicap, if for no other reason than they card a high percentage of turf races. Because many of the races are cheaper than those at the best tracks, many horses that otherwise would not be tried on grass get an opportunity.

With many of these horses lacking established turf form, an understanding of turf pedigrees is essential. Beyond analyzing the Tomlinson turf numbers in Daily Racing Form past performances, a good place for pedigree statistics is DRF Simulcast Weekly.

I combed through the statistics listed in the July 18 edition, and found the following turf sires to be particularly proficient: Boston Harbor, Broad Brush, Glitterman, Kentucky Jazz, Kris S., Northern Trend, Seattle Sleet, Smart Strike, Smokester, Strodes Creek, and Unusual Heat.

Their progeny had won on turf at a rate of 15 percent or higher. Their runners had hit the board over 40 percent of the time on grass, and their offspring had returned an average payoff in excess of $11 on that surface.

They are not the only quality turf sires. They are simply on a short list of value turf sires. Some, like Boston Harbor, are remembered as dirt horses, and high payoffs can sometimes be cashed by backing their runners on grass.