04/27/2004 11:00PM

Give a long look to all Florida shippers


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Conventional wisdom prior to the beginning of the Woodbine meeting was that horses who were winter-raced or winter-trained in the United States would have an edge early because of their fitness, a theory that has proven to be correct thus far.

Horsemen who spent the past winter in Ontario never got to ship into Woodbine until March 1 because of extensive barn renovations on the backstretch, which gave them just six weeks to prepare for opening day.

Not surprisingly, horses who wintered in Florida have been deadly. Three shippers from Tampa Bay Downs won on opening day, and Tampa runners had an overall record of 3 for 10 during the first four days of the meeting. Gulfstream shippers were 4 for 22, while horses who trained in Florida, without running there, were a respectable 9 for 50.

Some local trainers who wintered at Classic Mile Training Center in Ocala, Fla., sent out several live longshots. Ross Armata Jr. clicked with Rocket Ridge ($41.90) and Expected Song ($9.10) on opening weekend. Chantal Paquette scored last Sunday with Pandora's Secret ($51.80), and probably should have won last Saturday's fifth race with West Bound Dream, who was a troubled second at 42-1.

Trainer John Ross saddled two Classic Mile-conditioned winners last weekend - Meadow Minister ($12.90) and Picadilly Bay ($4.40). Laurie Silvera, another Classic Mile trainer, won with two favorites on April 18 - Silver Albertson and Volatile Vickie - who were both coming off a race at Gulfstream.

Shippers from Oaklawn had a strong run during the first four days, posting two wins from just four starters. The lone Philadelphia Park shipper won, while Aqueduct runners went 1 for 6.

Fair Grounds invaders had the worst record. Horses who trained or raced at that New Orleans oval over the winter were a dismal 0 for 19, although some of them did run well.

Here are the records of the shippers from other tracks who have competed at the meeting: Mountaineer, 0 for 4; Charles Town, 0 for 3; Sam Houston, 0 for 2; Hawthorne, 0 for 2; Keeneland, 0 for 2; Turfway, 0 for 2; Ocala Training Center (OBS races), 0 for 2; Delta Downs, 0 for 1; San Luis Rey Training Center (Southern California), 0 for 1; and Santa Anita, 0 for 1.

Winter-raced or -trained runners should continue to be effective here in races at six furlongs or longer for a few more weeks, although it won't be too much longer before the locals catch up and begin to dominate the scene.

One runner who bucked the current trend was Queen's Plate prospect Nyuk Nyuk Nyuk, who won last Saturday's six-furlong Woodstock Stakes with a big Beyer Figure of 96 after training exclusively in Ontario with Bob Tiller, Woodbine's leading trainer in 2003.

Nyuk Nyuk Nyuk will present a quandary for form cycle handicappers if he runs back in the seven-furlong Queenston Stakes here May 8, because many horses who run a corker off a layoff regress when they reappear on relatively short rest. Since the Queenston is restricted to Canadian-breds, unlike the open Woodstock, perhaps Nyuk Nyuk Nyuk could bounce and still get the job done, although he won't be worth backing at a short price.

Rundle's lackluster performance in last Sunday's sixth race was a classic example of a bounce. Rundle, who wired second-level allowance opposition at long odds on opening day, dropped to face $50,000 claimers on Sunday, and could only manage a seventh-place finish at 9-2.

Handicappers should consider vulnerable any horse running back quickly off a big comeback effort here. These runners are usually overbet, which makes the angle especially effective for those searching for weak favorites with the intention of betting against them.