06/25/2003 11:00PM

Finally, NYRA turf season in full swing


ELMONT, N.Y. - After losing dozens of turf races to one of the wettest springs on record, the NYRA is looking to restore some sense of normalcy to the maiden and entry-level allowance ranks by running extra races on the grass whenever possible.

Five turf races were scheduled here Friday as part of an expanded 10-race twilight card, and five more are set for Saturday's marathon program of 11 live races, a program that also includes simulcasts of the Arlington Classic and the Molly Pitcher Handicap.

Three of the five turf races Saturday are for maidens, and another is a preliminary allowance. These races are a trip handicapper's joy because the fields are typically large (all are full fields Saturday), and teeming with blue-blooded pedigrees from quality barns.

Betting on these races is tricky for two main reasons:

* Whenever 10-12 inexperienced runners maneuver through dog-legs into the backstretch (as on the Widener course), abbreviated runs to the first turn (as on the Inner course), and tight quarters on the far turn, difficult trips are commonplace.

* The winner is often a horse with strong turf pedigree who a) improves many lengths after a race or two on dirt, or b) is a first-time starter from a turf-oriented barn, or c) is a European import that began its career with some hard-to-evaluate races overseas. In the majority of cases, handicappers are dealing with the tip of the iceberg, and little more, when trying to establish a hierarchy among the contenders, i.e. formulating a meaningful betting line.

In terms of wagering strategy, these potentially "loaded" races lend themselves to "spreading" in the multi-race exotics, and they can provide ample payoff power when legitimate but overlooked contenders light up the board.

There's nothing wrong with betting big-time pedigrees and/or grass connections in the win pool, but it's important to allow for the inherent volatility in these situations - you're usually betting on a horse to do something it has never done before. This is accomplished by setting a minimum odds requirement and sticking to it. A horse may be a half-brother to several turf stakes winners, but until it actually runs on turf you're betting into a gray area, and chances are good that several others in the race are bred well for turf, also. Insist on at least 6-1 for win bets based primarily on pedigree. If the horse is coming off a noteworthy effort on dirt for whatever reason, you can go to 5-1. Any lower than that, though, is asking for trouble in the long-term.

Taking stand against Yell in Mother Goose

Of the 13 races on the Belmont card, five are stakes, including the NTRA Summer Pick 3 of the Mother Goose, Arlington Classic, and Molly Pitcher. The Mother Goose is also the concluding leg of Belmont's pick 4, and it is also the final leg of an all-stakes pick 3 that begins with the Tremont and the Mike Lee Handicap.

Your opinion of the Mother Goose, therefore, determines whether you can hit any or all of the aforementioned multi-race gimmicks.

For better or worse, I'm going against Yell, who may go off as the lukewarm favorite after a tough-trip third in the Kentucky Oaks. It's been 57 days since the Oaks, however, and it may be significant that Yell's two slowest Beyer Speed Figures have come in her two previous layoff situations.

Her two strongest challengers figure to be Final Round, who was beaten just one length in the Acorn, and Roar Emotion, who managed to wire last month's Black-Eyed Susan despite running her last three-eighths in a slow 40.10 seconds.

Another very interesting entrant is Spoken Fur, who won three straight races in Kentucky this spring prior to being acquired by owner John Amerman and trainer Bobby Frankel. For those who didn't read the current edition of DRF Simulcast Weekly, it's worth reading an excerpt from Steve Davidowitz's "At The Windows" column:

"When Frankel ships a seemingly okay runner and aggressively places him in a graded stakes on turf or dirt, he gets much better prices that his amazing record suggests."

Indeed, this angle accounted for Peace Rules ($20.80) in the Louisiana Derby, and, more recently, worked in last month's Shuvee Handicap at Belmont, when Chilean import Wild Spirit ($22.40) turned in a dominating performance in her United States debut off a five-month layoff.

Spoken Fur earned a 90 Beyer for her second-level allowance win at Churchill Downs last out. That kind of figure isn't ordinarily competitive in Grade 1 stakes, but none of her five rivals have as yet been past the low-to-mid 90's.