04/08/2003 11:00PM

First weeks the trickiest to figure

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - The initial portion of the marathon Woodbine meeting is usually the toughest for handicappers, who must size up the chances of numerous runners coming off layoffs as they lock horns with shippers from throughout North America.

Not surprisingly, runners coming off a race at Gulfstream were very effective during the first six days of racing, winning nine of 23 starts. Shippers from Laurel took three of five starts.

Horses from Tampa, Aqueduct, and Mountaineer had a modicum of success. Fair Grounds invaders won just 1 of 16 starts, and they were also unsuccessful during the first month of the 2002 meeting.

Gulfstream shippers were often strongly bet, but there were some notable exceptions who got the job done. Majestic Wisdom finished well back in both of his Gulfstream outings, but utilized his fitness edge to defeat favored Wando and win the March 30 Achievement Handicap at 21-1. Pia Gold defeated $12,500 maidens at 23-1 on March 23 after getting dusted for $25,000 at Gulfstream.

Those willing to overlook poor performances from winter-raced horses can be rewarded handsomely when those runners compete in weaker company over more familiar terrain. With two cards canceled and some training time lost here last week, the trend could continue in the short term.

Track bias report

March 22: The rail seemed like the place to be on opening day, when eight of the 10 winners on the card ran along the inside most of the way. Horses who ran well against the bias included the winner of the second race, Executive Legacy, as well as Oye Yoye Yoye, Misty Expectation, Shipman, Dawn's Creek, Olympian, Salt Water Cowboy, Dinner at Jackies, and Lucky Dazzler.

March 23: Front-runners and pace-pressers dominated the card, although the bias should be downplayed a little because all 10 races were run at five furlongs. Horses who closed some ground included Fashion Proof, Cobra Star, Novantuno, Square Bob, Reservations Only, Chris's Bad Boy, She Is a Wild One, Fleet of Foot, Nicely Nasty, George. D., and Mike Shannon.

Two horses who benefited from an opening-weekend bias came back to win on the drop: Slot Happy and Sirona Gold. In fact, runners making their second start of the meeting have compiled a respectable record of 7-7-2 from 34 attempts.

April 5: Speed horses did most of the damage, but the bias did not turn out to be quite as strong as it seemed it was going to be after the first race, in which front-running Jack and Emma graduated by 10 lengths for $12,500, setting a track record for five furlongs of 55.95 seconds.

Front-runners and stalkers dominated the rest of the card, except for the last race, in which favorites Doug's Lad and Abba Do both rallied to finish one-two. Others who hit the board trying to buck the bias included Holster, Appas Tappas, Sweet Women, Kids Ridge, and Hour of Justice.

A strong west wind contributed to rapid fractions and many quick final times in the sprints. Even the lone 1 1/16-mile race on the card, a $20,000 claimer, was run in a fast 1:43.80.

* There will be a two free handicapping seminars at Woodbine this weekend featuring Jim Mazur and Jim Bannon. The United States Triple Crown will be the topic of discussion on Saturday, and handicapping at Woodbine will be the focus of Sunday's tutorial. The seminars will take place at the east end of the second floor, and will begin at 11 a.m.