02/19/2003 12:00AM

Fickle objects of the public's eye

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LAS VEGAS - It's that time of year again when 3-year-old reputations quickly float up, like bubbles, and burst just as fast. And a horse certainly doesn't have to do much to earn his bit of short-lived fame and glory.

Reputations - won and lost, old and new - were the principal themes in last Saturday's Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park. Here are the main horses whose stocks either rose or fell.

Ten Cents a Shine: Why was he the 5-2 favorite in the Fountain of Youth? He's a promising young colt, no doubt. But his allowance race at Gulfstream on Jan. 31 had set up perfectly for his slow-starting, late-running style. Three horses dueled for the lead in a very fast pace on Jan. 31, and Ten Cents a Shine closed well but couldn't pass Senor Swinger, who had a much tougher trip. Ten Cents a Shine finished second to Soto in the Kentucky Jockey Club last fall under very similar circumstances. In that race, everybody was closing at the end as the speed fell apart. But the pace scenario in the Fountain of Youth looked completely different - and not at all conducive to Ten Cents a Shine's running style. In addition, his Beyer Figure in the Gulfstream allowance race didn't really improve on his Churchill race last November, and he was returning in only 15 days - a rapid turnaround for a horse these days.

So why was he the favorite? The answer is simple: His connections, trainer Kenneth McPeek and jockey Jerry Bailey, are the kind of celebrity names bettors look for in major stakes races. Baileymania by itself is sufficient to destroy any semblance of parimutuel value.

Ten Cents a Shine never made a move in the Fountain of Youth. He finished sixth, about 24 lengths back. He did have an excuse, however. He came out of the race with a lung infection. If Ten Cents a Shine recovers quickly, maybe he will still be a factor in future Derby preps. But one thing's for sure: In the Fountain of Youth, his reputation far outdistanced his meager accomplishments to date, and so he ended up an absurdly short price.

Trust N Luck: Now here's a horse without the "proper" connections. His trainer is Ralph Ziadie and his jockey is Cornelio Velasquez. No front-page celebrity names in his past performances, just excellent local credentials. But Trust N Luck had something much more valuable than elite connections, especially at Gulfstream Park. He had front-running speed. He also had that gaudy 110 Beyer Figure from Calder back in mid-December. I certainly didn't expect him to repeat that number, but he did look like the controlling speed in a relatively paceless affair. And at Gulfstream that can often be decisive. Trust N Luck fluctuated between 6-1 and 5-1 through most of the betting. He cleared the field early, set a fairly modest pace, and won by more than five lengths. He paid $11.80. He wasn't able to repeat his previous huge Beyer, but he came very close with a 106.

Supah Blitz: Just like Trust N Luck, this horse lacks starry connections. He is trained by Emanuel Tortora and ridden by Rosemary Homeister, who are well respcected locally. But he also had three big factors in his favor. He had good attending speed in a relatively paceless race. He had the rail going two turns. And he had a powerful cycling speed-figure pattern. In the fall he had run consecutive figures of 72-89-95. Then he dropped down to an 86 Beyer on the turf, followed by an improvement to 92 - virtually the same figure as favorite Ten Cents a Shine - in the Sunshine Million Dash. If he repeated his earlier pattern from the fall, he could improve again to a figure in the mid-to-upper 90's. That's just what he did. He sat a perfect trip on the inside only a few lengths behind Trust N Luck, came through on the rail entering the stretch, and continued on for second. He earned a Beyer of 97. He was 33-1, completing a $209.40 exacta.

Whywhywhy: Lots of reputation here - much of it deserved from his 2-year-old accomplishments in New York. And lots of glamour, with Patrick Biancone the trainer and Edgar Prado the jockey. So why was he so dead on the board? And why the blinker change? At 9-2 and 4-1 through most of the betting, you had to be skeptical of his fitness, his soundness, and/or his ability to go a distance. There's nothing more icy on the tote board than a big-reputation horse who isn't taking any money. Whywhywhy ran very poorly, chasing the pace three wide on the turn, and packing it in before they hit the top of the stretch. His Beyer Figure: a mediocre 86.

Offlee Wild: This colt instantly vaulted into the reputation class with his win in the Holy Bull on Jan. 18. In that race he chased Bham and Powerful Touch on the outside the entire way around two turns, and he was all-out in a game effort to prevail by a head after a long, exhausting stretch duel. His 99 Beyer was a big lifetime best, and, earned after a two-month layoff and an extremely draining trip, he looked ripe for a big reaction. In fact, while he did only manage a fourth-place finish, 7 1/2 lengths behind at odds of 7-2, he was the only horse in the speed-dominated Fountain of Youth to make a serious run at the leaders. He moved up smartly on the turn while three and four wide, but couldn't sustain it in the stretch. His Beyer slumped only marginally, down to a 93.

Offlee Wild might well have a future that would quickly restore his now-tarnished reputation.