05/15/2007 11:00PM

Hidden gems await key-race hunters

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Key races have become in vogue in the pages of Daily Racing Form in recent years, ever since DRF handicappers got easy access to that information, either in Key Race Reports or within the Formulator 4.1 statistical package sold online.

DRF's definition of a key race is any contest that yields at least two next-out winners. Occasionally, this type of key race is a gold mine for producing live runners, while others never produce another next-start winner.

Hudson Bank was very hard to recommend in the fourth race at Santa Anita on Feb. 20, 2006. A 5-year-old maiden, Hudson Bank was beaten 62 1/4 lengths when he debuted the previous June 17 in a $25,000 maiden claimer at Hollywood Park. About three weeks later, he competed in another $25,000 maiden claimer, finishing 65 1/2 lengths behind a winner who subsequently ran second in a $40,000 starter allowance. The second and third runners from that $25,000 maiden claimer both came back to graduate for $25,000, including one who was awarded a 92 Beyer Figure.

Trainer Mag Perez laid up Hudson Bank for the next seven months before entering him with blinkers off Feb. 20. Sent off at 90-1, he mounted a furious stretch rally to prevail by daylight while registering an 83 Beyer. It had to be one of the biggest form reversals in racing history.

I didn't bet on Hudson Bank that day, but I did consider him for use in exotic wagers, because he was exiting that key race. Of course, there were probably several reasons for the dramatic turnaround, and facing easier company was just one of them.

Perhaps the best method for detecting races that have produced live runners is DRF's Formulator 4.1, an interactive computer program that enables the user to examine a host of handicapping factors.

Formulator 4.1 provides access to charts for the three most recent races of all horses entered. Handicappers can then use the charts to look up the past performances of every horse, to gauge how good they are and how they fared in their subsequent starts. You can also select "next race" to see if any of the horses in the chart have run back and how they have done.

An example of the usefulness of this tool came March 31 in the first race of the Woodbine meeting, a maiden special that was won by Hello Haley.

Hello Haley wound up third in her Feb. 24 debut at Fair Grounds, behind a winner who came back to finish a close second in a first-level allowance. On March 31, she returned $7.40 as second choice in the seven-horse field, a price that would have been lower if the name of the winner from her debut had appeared in italics, which signifies a next-out winner in the past performances.

Hedge on Gold was exiting a quality race at Oaklawn when he competed in a $50,000 claimer here May 4. He was fifth in that maiden special, behind a winner who returned to finish third in an allowance. The horse who finished directly behind Hedge on Gold in sixth returned to win a maiden special.

At Woodbine on May 4, Hedge on Gold led throughout and returned a generous $14.10 as the DRF consensus best bet. The exactor onto Coningsby, another Oaklawn shipper, paid $140.50.

There are several runners exiting a key race on Friday's Woodbine card, including Cousin Sally and Love the Grey. Both are entered in the eighth race, a $40,000 claimer for nonwinners of two.

After shipping in from Oaklawn, Cousin Sally met $20,000 nonwinners-of-two stock April 1, and was a fast-closing third over a speed-favoring Polytrack. The winner came back to be third in an allowance, and the second- and seventh-place finishers both returned to score.

Love the Grey ran second in her $20,000 season opener April 15 behind I Can, who went on to beat $80,000 claimers. The third runner across the line subsequently won a Fort Erie allowance, and the ninth-place finisher defeated $16,000 foes next time out.

Despite moving up in price on Friday, Cousin Sally and Love the Grey both have a chance in the 6 1/2-furlong sprint.