03/11/2004 12:00AM

Get out the scissors: Pace variants are back

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OZONE PARK, N.Y. - At the recent Handicapping Expo in Las Vegas, and right here at The Big A, some readers have been spotted with clipped-out copies of the Jan. 31 Handicapper's Corner listing pace and final-time variants for roughly the first half of the inner-track meet, Dec. 3 through Jan. 25. The dog-eared pages were painstakingly annotated with color-coded highlighters and indecipherable hieroglyphics, and response was highly favorable for continued updates on at least a semi-regular basis.

Happy to add to the confusion. Picking up from six weeks ago, the conclusion of inner-track racing (Jan. 29 through March 7) is contained in the accompanying chart at right. As always, sprints and routes are separated, and variants are listed pace/final. Note several days where variants were split.

Watch out for recent maiden winners

Here's another list to consider. From the last three weeks of inner-track racing, see if you can figure out what the following eight winners had in common:

DateWinner ($2 win pay)
Feb. 20Saintliness ($10.40)
Feb. 20Song of the Sword ($8)
Feb. 27Gold Vault ($3.40)
Feb. 28Knight of Darkness ($12.60)
March 4John's Wise ($25.60)
March 5Heneresa ($8.30)
March 7Polonia ($8.60)
March 7Savannah Road ($4.10)

The answer is that they all posted repeat victories right after their maiden wins. Saintliness, Song of the Sword, and Gold Vault stepped up to win entry-level allowance races, as did John's Wise and Polonia in the statebred ranks. Knight of Darkness won a maiden $50,000 claimer and came back to win for the same price versus 3-year-olds. Heneresa and Savannah Road won lower-level maiden $30,000 claimers and came back to repeat in restricted claimers for nonwinners-of-two lifetime.

During the height of the season, maiden winners often have a tough time when they step up to face winners, but that jump is more easily accomplished at this time of the year, when most classifications contain horses who are regularly logging slower-than-par figures.

Florida shippers often dominate in spring

As the spring meet unfolds, expect the usual parade of winning Florida shippers. The annual trend actually began in late February, as Sun Stroke ($4.20), Brite Memory ($6.70), and Lucky Gamble ($17.40) won first out in New York. Last weekend, Ground Storm ($5.30) springboarded off a comeback win at Gulfstream to win the Stymie Handicap for the second time in three years. Garret ($16.20), the only Gulf shipper on the opening-day main-track card, won by open lengths.

Since Feb. 26, Florida shippers are 5 for 11, returning $49.80 on $2 flat bets of $22.

An extra-high win percentage for favorites is another thing horseplayers can count on during this transitional time of the New York season, when fields historically are on the short side and often contain one or two standout contenders. The post-time choice won at a 39-percent clip at Aqueduct's 2002 spring meet, and the chalk was virtually as strong last spring, winning at 38 percent.

A little knowledge like that can be a dangerous thing, because apparently, no one told Wednesday's favorites they were on the main track now. Picking four of six was good enough for a pick-six consolation of $2,723 after winners in the sequence rambled home at 53-1, 36-1, and 27-1. There was one winning $1 pick four ticket, worth half of the posted $269,826 bonanza, presumably held by some incredibly lucky soul whose phone number ends with 9-6-8-3.

LITFIN CHART

DateVariantsComment
Jan 29S-S3/S1R-S1/PLive rail; 7 winners 1st/2nd at 1st call.
Jan 30S-F1/S1 R-S3/S1 
Jan 31S-S2/S3 (2,4)R-F3/F1Split sprint variant.
 P/P (5,6,9) 
Feb 1S-S2/P R-S4/S1 (2,4)Split route variant;productive day for closers
 F2/S2 (6,8,9) 
Feb 4 S-F5/F5 (1)R-F5/F3 (2,3)Drying-out track slowed during the day.
 S1/P (4,7,9) P/P (5,6) 
 S3/S4 (8) 
Feb 5 S-P/S1R-F1/F2Live rail.
Feb 7S-S2/S4R-S2/S4Muddy; sealed throughout.
Feb 8S-F3/F3R-F2/F2Seven front-running winners.
Feb 11S-S2/S3 R-S5/S4Very live rail.
Feb 12 S-P/P (3)R-P/P (1,2,4,5)Outer paths improved; split variant.
 F6/F2 (7,8)F4/F1 (6,9) 
Feb 13S-F2/S3 R-S2/S1 
Feb 14 S-S2/S3R-S2/S3Closers did exceptionally well.
Feb 15S-S6/S6 R-S6/S3Stiff headwind backstretch; most winners inside.
Feb 16S-S3/S4 R-S9/S5Headwind backstretch; very live rail.
Feb 19S-S2/S1R-S2/S1 
Feb 20S-F4/F5 R-S4/P 
Feb 21S-F4/F3 (1,3,4) R-P/F2Eight sprints; split variant.
 F1/F1 (5-10) 
Feb 22S-S3/S3R-S5/S4Stiff headwind backstretch; speed-favoring.
Feb 25S-S3/S3 R-S6/S2 
Feb 26S-S3/S1 R-S6/S2Headwind backstretch.
Feb 27S-S3/S1 R-S4/S3Headwind backstretch.
Feb 28S-P/F1 R-S1/F1 
Feb 29S-S1/P (1,3) R-F2/F1Split sprint variant.
 F7/F6 (4,6.8) 
Mar 3S-P/P R-S2/F3Live rail; seven winners led/up-close early.
Mar 4S-F8/F7 R-F5/F6Wet-fast after a.m. showers;lightning-fast.
Mar 5S-F7/F7 R-S2/F1Foggy & wet-fast.
Mar 6S-F3/P R-S2/S4Sloppy; first sealed track in four weeks.
Mar 7S-F6/F5 R-F2/F1Drying out, good to wet fast (harrowed).