04/28/2005 12:00AM

Florida shippers have been like gold at Big A


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - As long as public handicapping is my livelihood, I will never take vacation time during Aqueduct's spring meet.

Why would any public handicapper in his right mind miss a day of five-horse fields and favorites winning at nearly 40 percent? The handicapping is quick and easy, and your stats look wonderful at the end of the day. It's like Murderers' Row of the 1927 Yankees padding its batting average against Tampa Bay Devil Rays pitching.

But unless you're the type of horseplayer who bets enough chalk to have earned the nickname "third-base line," you may want to make your travel reservations for next spring and plan to get as far away from the Big A as possible.

For die-hards on a tropical island a thousand nautical miles from the nearest simulcast facility, a profit can still be had at Aqueduct's 2006 spring meet. Simply leave some cash with a friend and instruct him to bet any and all shippers from Gulfstream Park.

Consider these facts:

Heading into this final week of the spring meet, horses with a last-race running line at Gulfstream had won 24 of 83 starts, a 28.9 percent winning percentage. The average win mutuel was $7.46.

A $2 flat bet on all such starters returned $179.10 on a $166 investment, turning a profit with no other handicapping whatsoever.

Exacta and trifecta players take note that Gulfstream shippers were part of the exacta over 50 percent of the time (44 for 83) and in the money over 70 percent of the time (59 for 83).

These numbers are good, but they really don't convey the full impact of how Florida shippers ran roughshod over the local horses, particularly in the graded stakes races.

Examine the rundown of the 12 graded stakes run at the meet thus far.

Ten of the 12 graded stakes were won by horses who raced elsewhere in their most recent start. Seven had run at Gulfstream, but Offlee Wild and Better Talk Now - two who had run elsewhere in their last start - spent all or part of the winter training in Florida. Indeed, there have been many winners who wintered in Florida and came north to beat the locals, such as the Barclay Tagg-trained first-time starter My Favorite Angel in last Sunday's second race.

The three stakes on Wood Day were dominated by horses exiting Gulfstream races: Lost in the Fog and White Socks made up the Bay Shore exacta; Forest Danger and Medallist made up the exacta in the Carter; and the lone Gulfstream runner in the Wood was Bellamy Road, who won by a country mile.

Additionally, there were two lopsided non-stakes affairs in which Gulfstream runners swept the top three positions and the third-place finisher had at least 10 lengths on the remainder of the field.

Given the prevailing trend, Saturday's Withers Stakes looks like a good spot for another invader from Florida. The speedy B.B. Best drew post 3 for the one-mile stakes and figures to appreciate getting away from the likes of bona fide Kentucky Derby contenders High Fly and Bandini after setting the pace in the Fountain of Youth and the Florida Derby.

"With his speed, a little less distance should help," said trainer Eddie Plesa. "He kept real good company in Florida this winter and hung in there well with them."

The Florida scene has shifted to Calder, and Saturday's all-stakes pick four has a solid-looking single in the third leg, the Hollywood Wildcat Breeders' Cup Handicap.

Wend, a Claiborne Farm homebred trained by Bill Mott, has won all three of her turf starts by open lengths, and with escalating figures that suggest she is about to become a major player in the filly-and-mare turf division.

After winning her first two grass starts on the front-end, including a 1 1/8-mile allowance win in 1:45.28 - a Gulfstream course record at the time - Wend stepped up to a second-level allowance and showed the ability to rate off the leaders, drawing off as much the best.

A well-made filly with fluid strides, Wend gets a conservative introduction to stakes company, as is appropriate, and should use this race as a springboard to bigger and better things in the coming months.

Aqueduct stakes winners

TobogganPrimary Suspect ($9.30)Gulfstream
GothamSurvivalist ($8.90)Gulfstream
CicadaDixie Talking ($56.60)Laurel
Next MoveDaydreaming ($5.00)Gulfstream
DistaffBank Audit ($10.60)Aqueduct
ExcelsiorOfflee Wild ($4.20)Laurel
Bay ShoreLost in the Fog ($2.30)Gulfstream
CarterForest Danger ($3.70)Gulfstream
WoodBellamy Road ($7.10)Gulfstream
ComelyAcey Deucey ($9.00)Aqueduct
Bed o' RosesPleasant Home ($19.60)Gulfstream
Fort MarcyBetter Talk Now ($3.60)Hollywood