04/02/2003 12:00AM

Digging deep for golden nuggets


LEXINGTON, Ky. - If you are like me, you are probably looking for a reason to postpone working on your taxes. Look no further - Keeneland opens Friday.

So on Tuesday, instead of working with Turbo Tax, I worked with Daily Racing Form charts and statistics from the Keeneland web site.

Here is what I discovered. For starters, believe what they say about Keeneland's inside bias. For the past two years (four meets), posts 1 and 2 have been the most successful starting positions in sprints at Keeneland. Similarly, the inside is favorable in main track routes. Post 2 was once again the leader (19 percent winners). Posts 1 and posts 3-7 were roughly equivalent in terms of win percentages, ranging from 11 to 13 percent. But post 1, like post 2, proved a huge benefit in terms of hitting the board. Half of those horses racing from either post 1 or 2 finished among the top three at the finish.

Although posts mattered on the main track, they meant nothing on the grass course. The outside post was as successful as the inside post in turf routes, and the differences among the middle runners was inconsequential. Because of the widespread belief that inside horses hold an advantage on the tight turns of a grass course, there is value to be found on those racing on the outside.

Of course, there is more to Keeneland than post positions. A handicapper also needs to know who wins races there. Some of the answers are obvious, others not so obvious.

Pat Day has won more races than any other rider during the last three spring meets at Keeneland. (Fall meets were excluded because participating horses, riders, and trainers differ.) He won the riding title outright in 2001, tied with Shane Sellers in 2000, and was second to Robby Albarado last spring. Overall, he is 59 for 270 (22 percent) in that period. Albarado is the second most successful rider at Keeneland over the last three spring meets with 51 wins from 280 mounts (18 percent).

Other high-percentage riders include Shane Sellers, Jerry Bailey, Edgar Prado, and Kent Desormeaux.

The agents for Bailey and Prado are likely to pick their spots at Keeneland, shooting for important allowances and stakes. The richer the race, the more they merit following.

Nationally prominent riders mean next to nothing in cheap races at Keeneland. Aside from Pat Day, who is 6 for 22 in claiming races over the past three spring meets, big names have fared no better than lesser-known riders.

Low-level claiming races at Keeneland are weak, and are often won by Turfway Park runners or Ohio-based horses. The trainers of these horses are typically loyal to the jockeys who have been riding their horses over the winter. Blue-collar riders such as Bonnie Castaneda, Mike Morgan, Joe Deegan, Orlando Mojica, Rhonda Collins, Eddie Zuniga, and Jeff Johnson have all won claiming races at Keeneland over the past few years.

Two riders to watch in claiming races this meet - Jason Lumpkins, who set a record for wins during the recent Turfway Park meet, and Jon Court, who shifted his tack to Oaklawn this winter. Court is 7 for 23 in claiming races over the last three spring meets. In all other races, he is 6 for 122.

The trainer standings differ greatly from year to year. Because Keeneland is such a short meet, how a trainer performs is often based on his quality of allowance stock and how many conditions these horses have available.

Last year, for example, D. Wayne Lukas led the standings with 11 winners from 20 starts. The previous two years, he was 7 for 64. Some of the most consistent trainers at Keeneland in the spring have been Elliott Walden, Todd Pletcher, Carl Nafzger, Bobby Frankel, and Nick Zito. Bill Mott, Frank Brothers, Chuck Simon, Rusty Arnold, John Ward, and Dallas Stewart have also experienced hot meets. Mott won the training title two years ago, and Stewart won it in the spring of 2000.

Mark Frostad, who trains for Sam-Son Farm, is among the most rewarding trainers to support. He has won at least four races at Keeneland in each of the last three years, and is 16 for 49 (33 percent) over that three-year stretch.

Keeneland also offers a large number of maiden races, including 4 1/2-furlong races for 2-year-olds. On that front, one trainer has dominated: Ronny Werner. He won with 5 of 6 first-time starters in 2001, and went 4 for 10 last year. Risen Star winner Badge of Silver was one of his juvenile winners.

Other trainers with more than one debut winner at Keeneland in any of the last three spring meets include Lukas, Brothers, and Steve Asmussen.

Of course, the problem with statistics is that it is easy to fall into the trap of constantly looking back at them, instead of anticipating how those numbers might shift in the future. Just because a trainer does well during past meets doesn't mean he will excel now. The key to financial success is anticipating these changes, instead of merely looking behind.