03/18/2004 12:00AM

Got the horse right here to use against Birdstone


Birdstone should win Saturday's Lane's End Stakes, but at 12 times the morning-line price, I'll take a chance with longshot Sinister G.

Sinister Who, you say? I would have asked the same question up until a few days ago.

But upon analyzing the past performances for the Lane's End and comparing the starters to past winners of the race, I believe he looms a live longshot. Here's why.

Since 1994, the average winning Beyer Speed Figure in the Lane's End is a 104, a number that none of Saturday's entrants has come close to earning - not even Birdstone.

In the absence of horses with triple-digit Beyers, the best prospects are those that have run recent figures at least in the low to mid-90's. Of the 10 most recent Lane's End winners, eight had run Beyers of 94 or greater in their start preceding the Lane's End. The two exceptions were New York Hero and Globalize, who earned pre-Lane's End figures of 88 and 83, respectively, in 2003 and 2000.

All but two of the last 10 winners had run within two Beyer points of their lifetime best in their pre-Lane's End race, and all 10 of the winners had run a Beyer of at least 89 at some point in their careers.

Applying that 89 career-best Beyer guideline to Saturday's Lane's End, over half the field can be dismissed for being too slow. Only Birdstone, That's an Outrage, Stolen Time, Hasslefree, and Sinister G have run a lifetime-best Beyer of 89 or higher.

Sinister G is the only horse coming off a last-race Beyer of 94 or higher, his being a 95. Birdstone comes off a 93 Beyer, a figure earned under a confident ride from Jerry Bailey.

Of the others with decent Beyers, Hasslefree does not appear to be peaking. His numbers have regressed since he won a 5 1/2-furlong allowance race at Saratoga last year with an 89 Beyer.

What about from a class angle? From that handicapping perspective, the Grade 1-winning Birdstone is a standout.

Sinister G is weak in this area. He has never won a stakes race, or even run competitively in one. He does, however, come off a second-place finish in a nonwinners-of-three allowance at Aqueduct, a race in which the unbeaten Song of the Sword edged him by a nose.

It merits mentioning that New York-based horses have been dangerous in this race in recent years. Two of the last three winners of the Lane's End came to Turfway by way of Aqueduct (New York Hero, 2003; Balto Star, 2001).

Another plus for Sinister G is his front-running style. Most races at Turfway favor speed horses, and the 1 1/8-mile Lane's End is no exception. Four of the last 10 winners led after the opening quarter-mile, and another two pressed the pace from within a length of the early leader.

Those that closed from off the pace tracked the leaders from a contending position, never more than four lengths off the pace.

That would give a stalker like Birdstone a chance, but would seemingly work against deep closers like Little Matth Man and Hippocrates.

Betting strategy

Grade 1 Champagne winner Birdstone commands respect. He is classy, versatile, and consistent. He also benefits from the training of Nick Zito, a veteran of the 3-year-old Derby preps who won this race in 1999 with Stephen Got Even.

The only criticism of Birdstone is his probable short price. He is even money on the morning line, and low-priced Gulfstream Park shippers have sometimes bombed in this race (for example, Lion Tamer fourth at 4-5 odds last year). Even if he wins, a $4 payoff is far from a sizable return.

Sinister G, being a relative no-name and 12-1 on the morning line, is appealing as a price-oriented alternative. I plan to play him on top and use him in the exotics with Birdstone and to a lesser extent with Stolen Time and That's an Outrage.

For my money, Sinister G is a more attractive play than Silver Minister, the co-second choice with Stolen Time on the morning line at 5-1. Silver Minister defeated suspect opposition at Turfway this winter, and earned an 83 Beyer Speed Figure in winning the John Battaglia Stakes, the prep for the Lane's End. His winning Beyer was 10 points below par for the Battaglia, and over 20 points below the figure that typically wins a race like the Lane's End.