11/10/2004 12:00AM

Fort Erie shippers often struggle at Woodbine

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - It's hard to believe that it has been 10 years since Greenwood, that cozy little Toronto bullring overlooking Lake Ontario, was closed by the Ontario Jockey Club.

For many, the six-week Greenwood fall meeting was a welcome change from six straight months at Woodbine. You could take a streetcar from downtown Toronto to the East End oval, where the fans had a close-up view of the horses. Having a table in its dining room provided a wonderful night out, and even the food in the track kitchen was excellent.

Greenwood was three-quarters of a mile in circumference. Some horses handled its tight turns with great agility, while others struggled going around them. The "horse-for-course" theory was a dependable angle there, but it is virtually nonexistent in these parts now, because all of Woodbine Entertainment Group's Thoroughbred racing is conducted at Woodbine.

Isle of Tunes, a contender in Thursday's fifth race, is a prime example of a horse who has been more effective at Woodbine than at any of the other four tracks over which she has competed.

Isle of Tunes has a solid 2-1-1 record from four starts at Woodbine. She cracked 70 on the Beyer Speed Figure scale in only three of her 44 career outings, and two of those efforts were at Woodbine.

The vast majority of the shippers who have come to Woodbine this fall are from Fort Erie, a meeting that ended earlier than usual this year on Labor Day because of long-planned, extensive track renovations. It is widely believed that Fort Erie's surface is kinder than Woodbine's, and is therefore easier on the cheaper horses who populate its cards.

One Eyed Willing and Deedarling are just two of many recent Fort Erie invaders with a dreadful Woodbine record.

One Eyed Willing, who won two conditioned claimers at Fort Erie this year, is 0-for-15 at Woodbine, with just one top-three placing to his credit. He finished fifth in an $8,000 claimer last week.

Deedarling, winner of a $7,500 race at the Fort on Aug. 31, kept her poor local record intact last Saturday by running seventh in a $10,000 claimer. She is without purse earnings in seven Woodbine appearances, while failing to earn a Beyer higher than 39.

Obviously, horses with an abysmal Woodbine record should be avoided, especially cheaper runners who are at the end of long campaigns.

A survey of Fort Erie shippers competing at Woodbine this fall revealed that the majority of them improved with a race over the track, from a Beyer perspective.

Of the 30 horses scrutinized, 18 earned a higher Beyer in their second Woodbine outing, compared to their first. Ten Fort Erie shippers earned a lower Beyer in their second local appearance, while two received the same figure.

Of the 57 Fort Erie horses surveyed who were making their first start at Woodbine this fall, 25 earned a better Beyer than what they received in their previous outing, and 31 earned a lower Beyer. One got the same number.

Lorne Richards, one of Woodbine's leading trainers in terms of win percentage, was based at Hastings in Vancouver until he moved his outfit here a few years ago. He believes it's difficult to predict how a shipper will fare in its first start over Woodbine's main track.

"I don't make any hard or fast rules about it," Richards said. "I've brought some horses in from [western Canada] who ran well the first time, while others didn't run any good at all. It just seems to depend on the horse."

When analyzing the past performances during the final month of the meeting, it is certainly wise to upgrade the chances of any horse with a respectable Woodbine record.