10/07/2002 11:00PM

Indigo Myth factor off layoff

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ARCADIA, Calif. - A 16-month layoff may be reason enough to doubt the chances of Indigo Myth on Thursday at Santa Anita. Factor in a dubious class drop, and many horseplayers will choose to risk wagering on other horses in the 1 1/4-mile turf route that is race 7 on the card.

Yet whatever uncertainty surrounds his current class and form, there is an irrefutable truth about Indigo Myth. Once upon a time, the Bobby Frankel-trained runner would have drilled a one-other-than/optional $40,000 claiming field such as the one he meets Thursday. If he shows up and runs true to form, Indigo Myth will win again.

Twelve older horses entered the race, and Indigo Myth is eligible only because he is entered for the $40,000 claim price. Winner of a two-other-than allowance in April 2001, Indigo Myth has not raced since finishing second in a restricted stakes in May 2001. The layoff and subsequent class drop allows handicappers to infer that Indigo Myth was injured, and that expectations have been lowered since he last raced.

In many cases, reduced expectations are enough reason to sense that a horse is vulnerable. Handicappers who perceive Indigo Myth as vulnerable may be correct. But the picture is not always that clear. Before throwing out Indigo Myth, a horseplayer must ask whether Frankel would waste time and resources bringing back a horse from a 16-month layoff without hope of a reward.

Indigo Myth may not win Thursday's race, but he will be a factor. It is Frankel's opinion that the dynamics of long-distance races, particularly on turf, favor horses who have not raced recently. Going 1 1/4 miles, the field will gallop around the course, and sprint for home. Indigo Myth will not have to run hard the entire race. He can gallop for a mile, sprint for two furlongs, and win the race under Alex Solis.

Indigo Myth has won 3 of 10, and fired fresh in the past. On Thursday, he faces a hodgepodge of rivals. Tricky Travis is slowly rounding into form. Claimed last summer for $62,500 at Del Mar, Tricky Travis hit the board in five straight starts for trainer Craig Lewis. The streak includes a loss by a nose under conditions identical to Thursday's. But after that race he was sidelined. A seventh-place sprint comeback preceded a third-place route, and Tricky Travis arrives at Thursday's feature in a decidedly upward pattern.

Other contenders include 3-year-old Gold Point, honest claimer Cat Flight, front-runner Gentle Giant, lightly raced Golden Cortez, and stayer Lasting Tribute.

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