01/04/2003 1:00AM

Freeze Alert still as hot as ever


OLDSMAR, Fla. - The owner-trainer tandem of Johnny Butler and Marshall Novak has had significant success claiming and turning around runners who have gone off form.

For the past few years one of their stars was Bo Barley, an agile router who could run on both turf and dirt.

A classy veteran, Bo Barley always gave his all, but even his accomplishments pale in comparison to those of Freeze Alert.

Freeze Alert, who won seven of 11 starts last season, started the new year off on a good note last Tuesday at Tampa Bay Downs, rallying from off the pace to win a 1 1/16-mile starter allowance - his sixth win in a row.

A gelded son of Future Storm, Freeze Alert has won at tracks from Suffolk Downs to Delaware, whipping not only starter company but high-priced claiming and allowance rivals in the process.

He can run with the leaders if need be, but is most effective rallying late, as he did last week.

Freeze Alert now has won 15 of 39 lifetime starts and finished 2002 with earnings of $100,573 - not bad for a horse who was claimed at Tampa Bay last March for $8,000.

Speed bias obvious on Thursday

The main track has played fairly and evenly through much of the opening two weeks, but those who keep tabs on track biases should put a big circle around Jan. 2.

For the first six or seven races that day, the inside was "golden," and horses who skimmed the inner rail had a decided advantage. Those hung three- and four-wide and others attempting to make outside middle moves seemed to flounder in the middle of the strip.

By the end of the day the surface seemed to even out a bit and on Friday there didn't seem to be any pronounced biases. But tabbing runners back who raced wide or attempted to close on Jan. 2 could well prove profitable.

Three at the top of jockey standings

Joe Judice, Jesus Castanon, and Pedro Rodriguez have begun to distant themselves from the rest of the field in the jockey standings. Judice has ridden 19 winners through Friday, three more than Castanon, with Rodriguez one back with 15 tallies.

In the trainers' race, Lynne Scace has six winners from 22 starters, two more than Barbara McBride, Anthony Pecoraro and Clarence "Pete" Zehnder.