03/30/2006 1:00AM

I was at sea when I missed the boat


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - One of the beneficial things about being a horseplayer is it develops character whether you like it or not. In countless situations away from the racetrack when things have taken an unexpected turn for the worse or some minor annoyance has occurred, people often ask how I remain calm as things escalate out of control.

"In my line of work you get used to going from zero to aggravation in a matter of split-seconds," is my standard reply. Then I patiently explain the first thing learned at the track is anticipation and disappointment go hand in hand. All you can do is give it your best effort and hope things unfold as planned.

So after spending 10 days at sea, where there is no cell phone service and Internet access is obscenely expensive, I hardly batted an eye when I was catching up on results from Aqueduct, and saw Anew won last Sunday's eighth race and paid $34.80.

Now, anyone just off the boat from the Caribbean automatically has his or her complaining privileges revoked for at least a couple of months, but how is it possible that Anew, a horse-to-watch in the March 12 edition of the Daily Racing Form Simulcast Weekly after a super fast win as a first-time gelding, was let go at 16-1?

So, okay, Team Asmussen would just raise Anew up a rung or two on the claiming ladder and he would win again at a relatively short price. Instead, he was spotted aggressively in a second-level allowance against several other last-out winners, including a lightly raced 5-year-old named Tiger.

After winning his comeback sprint at Gulfstream with a Beyer Speed Figure of 100, Tiger was bet down to 4-5. For whatever reason, Anew was ignored despite having been ridden out to earn a figure of 99 in his first start as a gelding. The new-and-improved Anew out-gamed Tiger by a half-length after a long stretch drive, without me.

The really aggravating thing is that Anew was the missing link in a pick four that paid $1,943, along with two favorites and a second choice. Next time, I'm going to spring for the 75 cents a minute for Internet access and pick up my stable mail onboard.

Speaking of aggravation, Colita runs in Saturday's Excelsior Handicap, at $200,000 the richest race of the year for older males in New York thus far.

You know those I.Q. tests in which you have to fill in the next number in the sequence, like 2,4,6,8, what comes next? Try this one: 76, 26, 91, 68, 104, 85, 105 . . . ?

Those are the Beyers run by the enigmatic Colita in seven starts since the start of 2005. An educated guess is that despite the erratic pattern Colita can summon another "A" race in the Excelsior, and his best effort is good enough to win. The 104 represents Colita's first race back from a two-month layoff, during which he underwent throat surgery to correct a breathing problem. He then flattened out after a four-wide middle move in the Aqueduct Handicap, where he reportedly threw a shoe, but the fact that he quickly rebounded with another peak figure just 25 days later is taken as a positive sign.

Todd Pletcher's horses tend to hold good form through several races. Colita has found a relatively soft spot against the fading veterans Funny Cide and Evening Attire, and Your Bluffing, a 6-year-old who is coming back just two weeks after drifting in and repeatedly bumping with the winner while shouldering 125 pounds in a minor stakes at Laurel.

And if Colita fails to fire, well, better horses than him have let me down.

Wood Memorial card not-so-chalky

Wood Memorial Day 2005 was a parade of chalk. Lost in the Fog ($2.30) dominated the Bay Shore; Forest Danger ($3.70) came within two ticks of the seven-furlong track record in the Carter Handicap; and Bellamy Road ran off the TV screen as the 5-2 co-favorite in the Wood as if he were the second coming.

A week out from Wood Day 2006, things are not as clear-cut.

Too Much Bling is the most accomplished sprinter eyeing the Bay Shore, but Songster was impressive in his first two starts at Gulfstream Park, and he is entitled to go forward.

Silver Train is the fastest horse in the Carter, but that assumes that his poor seasonal debut was just further evidence that he hates Gulfstream, and nothing more.

Of the seven 3-year-olds considered definite for the Wood as of Thursday, five have recorded a recent route Beyer top between 102 and 104, and another, Showing Up, ran 97 and 100 in his first two starts.

Confusion and chaos await us, as another season gets under way in earnest. It's good to be back, aggravation and all.