11/18/2004 1:00AM

Keeneland winners fail to hold up their end


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - When a horse wins at Keeneland and is entered back, the betting public often views him as a likely repeat winner. Based on statistics, however, that horse is more likely to finish off the board than on it.

Through Wednesday, 64 winning main-track horses from Keeneland had returned to race, with three-quarters of them competing at Churchill Downs. Nine of the 64 won, a success rate of merely 14 percent, and 17 others ran second or third, resulting in an in-the-money percentage of 41 percent.

The return at the betting windows on these runners was dismal. All but two of the winners started at odds of 3-1 or less, and even with one $31.20 winner among the sampled runners, the $2 return on investment on the 64 winners was $1.15.

Granted, many were moved up in class - just like winners everywhere. Maiden winners faced more experienced horses, allowance horses jumped into stakes, and claiming horses moved up in price.

But 14-percent winners? That is only a decent win percentage when playing longshots, something winners from Keeneland typically are not.

When they did win, some did not necessarily run back to the brilliance they displayed at Keeneland. Tricky Devil, for example, who earned a 113 Beyer Speed Figure when he won his maiden by over 18 lengths at Keeneland last month, won an entry-level allowance at Churchill Downs Wednesday, but this time he won by two lengths and with an 89 Beyer. He paid $3.20.

I can relate to bettors who like these Keeneland winners. I have selected and bet some myself. Their form simply has not held up.

Why have they not transferred their form? The easy answer would be to say that Keeneland is biased toward inside horses and those that have speed, but even horses that closed to win at Keeneland have disappointed.

I think the main reason for their difficulties can be attributed to different surroundings and track surfaces. Keeneland is a distinctive track, one that some horses love and others loathe.

This is not a new trend. Think back to all the horses that won Keeneland's Blue Grass Stakes only to be beaten weeks later at Churchill Downs in the Kentucky Derby by horses they handled easily at Keeneland. Since 1980, only one horse, Strike the Gold in 1991, won both races, although if Alysheba had not been disqualified from first and placed third for interference in the 1987 Blue Grass, he would also have won both races.

Fortunately for those who would like to play against these Keeneland winners down the road, this angle is far from over. More than a third of the winners from the Keeneland meet have yet to run back.

Five of the 10 races are Churchill Downs on Saturday have horses that just won at Keeneland. Contributor, who won his maiden for a $25,000 tag at Keeneland, is entered in the second race, a $30,000 nonwinners-of-two claimer; Magic Madam remains at the $15,000 claiming level in the fourth; Sweet Talker moves from dirt to turf in the seventh race, an overnight handicap at 1 1/16 miles, after winning an entry-level allowance; Wanderin Boy races against one-other-than rivals in the eighth after winning his maiden at first asking; and Nannycam goes in the featured ninth, the Cardinal Handicap, after winning a turf allowance last month.

I will take a stand against all of those racing on the main track. I'm less confident playing against those on turf, however, since turf winners from Keeneland have maintained their form better than those that won on the main track. Two won Wednesday at Churchill - Mellowes and Victoire Bataille - improving their record to 3 for 15. While their success rate was only marginally higher, at 20 percent, eight of them hit the board.

Wet turf makes Aud the choice

With rain forecast for Louisville leading up to and including Saturday, the Cardinal Handicap appears destined to be run on a soggy turf course - if it is run on turf at all. A wet course would benefit Aud, a graded-stakes-winning filly who appreciates give in the ground. Racing over a yielding course here last fall in the Grade 2 Mrs. Revere, she rallied to be a close second to Hoh Buzzard at 6-1. She is the choice to take the Cardinal.

Angela's Love would appear the prime beneficiary if rain forces management to move the race to the main track. She has the most established dirt form of any mare in the field.