05/09/2006 11:00PM

Evaluating droppers tricky business


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Sizing up the chances of multiple-level class droppers can be a tricky process at Woodbine. It has been especially challenging in the spring since the purses skyrocketed from slot revenue about five years ago.

Trainer Renee Kierans, who doubles as a Woodbine racing commentator, recalled that in the past most local horsemen would routinely drop their horses down one level at a time in search of the proper place for them, a trend that has changed dramatically in recent years.

"People aren't waiting nearly as long as they used to before taking a dive with their horses," Kierans said. "They used to be more afraid to lose them, and then they finally dropped them in when everybody else did. Now, maybe because of the big purses, some people are dropping in and trying to get a good chunk of that money."

Kierans singled out Undercover Lover, who made her first start of the year in last Friday's fifth race, a $16,000 maiden claimer. Undercover Lover ran second against $32,000 maidens in her second start last Dec. 3, and then capped her campaign by running fourth in a maiden special event just four days later.

Even though Undercover Lover had worked fast prior to Friday's race, her owner and trainer, Ken Parsley, was willing to risk losing her for what might have been construed as a "too-good-to-be-true" price. She won as the favorite, and was claimed.

Such major class drops have kept handicappers guessing as to which runners are live and which aren't. Sid Attard, Woodbine's leading trainer in 2005, has sent out several suspicious droppers at the current meeting, notably Kid Buttons and Dashing Admiral.

Kid Buttons won all three of his 2005 outings last summer, two middle claimers and a first-level allowance. He was entered for a paltry $10,000 in his seasonal debut May 3, and won as the favorite.

Dashing Admiral won a minor stakes two years ago at age 3, but he struggled in 2005, failing to hit the board in six starts, the majority of which came in optional-claiming company. He wasn't a factor against $25,000 claimers in his season opener, and also came up empty in a subsequent $12,500 event.

Kierans said she picked Kid Buttons to win when he came off the sidelines, but said she wasn't keen on the chances of Dashing Admiral when he plunged in price.

"Kid Buttons figured to me, because he had good form," Kierans said. "He's been on and off the shelf, and when he's come back from a layoff, he's fired a big race.

"If you run him for $20,000, he's going to have to try a lot harder than he would have to for $10,000. If you run him for $10,000, where he doesn't have to try so hard, then maybe you can extend his shelf life.

"Dashing Admiral's form had really deteriorated, and it didn't look like the drop in class was going to turn him around. If he had dropped to $10,000 last year, maybe it would have been a different story. I've had horses like him who were tired of getting dirt kicked in their face all the time. If you go to Fort Erie with him, he might win two or three races and feel like he's the king."

Positive signs to look for with such droppers include a steady string of works, significant betting action, and a good prerace appearance.

* A frustrated bettor approached me after a recent handicapping seminar wondering why Woodbine does not provide first-time gelding information, which is reported in Kentucky and at the major Southern California tracks.

Gelding a horse can yield considerable improvement from some runners. To satisfy the needs of handicappers seeking potential form reversals, Woodbine should announce first-time geldings.