11/03/2008 12:00AM

Droppers difficult to figure


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Expectations are lowered Wednesday at Hollywood Park, where the art of handicapping sinks to a daylong exercise in choosing the lesser of evils.

Class droppers saturate the eight-race card, leaving horseplayers with conflicting choices. Does one wager on obvious droppers at depressed odds, or adopt a skeptical approach and wager against the so-called "best horse?"

The discord begins in race 1. Mud Sweat 'n Tears missed by a nose last out in a $20,000 claimer vs. older; she drops into a $12,500 claimer for 3-year-old fillies. It is either a trap, or a cinch. The certainty is horses dropping in class after good races almost always are overbet. Front-runner Catch Candy and consistent Dances With Tigers are alternatives.

Race-3 dropper Fire Break gets a ready-made pace scenario for his closing style, and his drop from $62,500 claiming to $32,000 is less alarming because the 1-for-5 gelding is still seeking his proper level. He faces late-runner Quityerbellyaching and Polish Pete.

Squeeze Me Tight drops in race 5, a turf sprint for $50,000 claiming fillies and mares. It's the right spot for the consistent mare, who has won two races and $78,840 in five starts since trainer Ron Ellis claimed her for the same $50,000 tag in January. In her first start since mid-August, Squeeze Me Tight appears to be the most probable winner on the card.

In race 6, a route for 2-year-old maiden claimers, Take From the Rich is the horse to beat. He raced evenly in a special-weight first out, and should improve with a race under his belt and drop in class. His main rivals are second-time starter Justdontcallmejeri and stretch-out sprinter Nascar Johnny.

The race-7 feature is an optional claiming sprint for Cal-breds, and favorite Spot the Diplomat epitomizes the class dilemma. He races for a $25,000 tag only three starts after he led the field with a furlong to go in the Grade 1 Bing Crosby Handicap before tiring to fifth.

Spot the Diplomat subsequently finished last in a stakes at Sacramento, and then showed signs of life last out running fifth against a stronger field than he meets Wednesday. In four starts since being claimed for $32,000 by trainer Peter Miller, Spot the Diplomat has earned $27,650.

Based on economics, Spot the Diplomat's presence in a $25,000 claimer makes sense against a modest field that includes Nima's Pad, Dark Nose, and Swift Demand.