11/08/2001 12:00AM

Keys to Big A: (1) find fastest horse, (2) bet him


JAMAICA, N.Y. - With six days of racing at Aqueduct in the books, here is an early line on emerging trends.

The Track: From the opening-day card on Halloween through Election Day, there were no days that could be singled out as "biased" in the strictest sense of the word. However, the first indications are that Aqueduct's main track is its usual speed-friendly self.

Indeed, early speed has been referred to as the universal track bias, and rightly so. No matter how complicated you believe the handicapping of one-turn dirt races needs to be, a lot of time can be saved by analyzing them with two questions in mind:

Who will be the pace-call leader?

Who can stay within two lengths at the pace call?

If you can't resist burying yourself in the minutiae of one-turn dirt races, go right ahead and take all the time you need. The rest of us will start the process with the most efficient elimination rule horseplayers have at their disposal:

Eliminate any horse who cannot stay within two lengths of the pace-call leader.

There were 33 one-turn dirt races during first six days at Aqueduct, and no less than 29 of them, or 88 percent, were won by horses who fit that description. This stat is nothing new, nor does it pertain only to Aqueduct. Season after season, the percentage of winners within two lengths at the pace call is just as strong at Belmont; and it is perhaps higher still at notorious conveyor belt tracks like Gulfstream and Keeneland.

Through Nov. 6, the subset of seven-furlong and one-mile chute races at Aqueduct this fall consisted of 15 races, all of which were won by a horse within two lengths of the lead at the pace call.

At six furlongs, one of the exceptions was D'Coach, a first-time starter from Shug McGaughey who overcame an eight-length deficit in the final quarter mile. As has been demonstrated time and time again, McGaughey-trained horses must not be eliminated early in the handicapping process no matter how little early speed they possess. There are other trainers whose stretch-running horses merit similar respect, but not many.

As far as determining who the pace-call leader might be, here is a spot-play system right out of the K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Stupid) handbook:

Step 1 - Make your best determination as to which horse will have the lead at the pace call.

Step 2 - Bet that horse.

Sound too simplistic? Consider that of the 29 one-turn races to begin the Big A sample, 17 of them, or 58 percent, were won by the pace-call leader - that is, the leader after a half-mile at six, six and one-half, and seven furlongs; and the leader after six furlongs at one mile.

Even if you correctly guess the early leader only half the time, that's still 29 percent winners, which is nearly as good as the universal average of post-time favorites. Needless to say, many pace-call leaders pay better prices than post-time favorites.

In the five two-turn routes at 1 1/8 miles, there are no meaningful trends thus far. Two of the five were won by the pace-call leader, but longshot Rochelle's Terms ($55) was able to rally from last in the Turnback The Alarm Handicap.

In these races, it is sometimes a good idea, more so than usual, to dig back into a horse's pre-Belmont two-turn form.

The Turf Course: Its sharp turns notwithstanding, the first 18 races pretty much confirm the general consensus that late speed has a much better chance on turf than on dirt, even on this layout.

The pace-call leader survived in only three of the 18 races. Only eight of them were won by horses running 1-2-3 at the pace call. Moreover, four turf winners made up pace-call deficits of five lengths or more.