04/26/2005 11:00PM

Know when to play Woodbine shippers


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Woodbine runners generally have been a disappointment in recent years when they have ventured south of the border for a particular race, probably because many of them shipped too close to their engagement, or were simply overmatched.

So what is the best way to play Woodbine horses when they compete elsewhere? Judging by what happened at several American tracks last winter, Woodbine exports are at their most effective when they have been away from their home base for a while. There are numerous examples of this trend:

* High Blitz capped his 2004 Woodbine campaign with a four-length tally in an $80,000 optional claimer in September, earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 90. He reappeared Nov. 27 at Churchill Downs, finishing fourth in the Distorted Humor Handicap with a 98 Beyer, and then captured the Dec. 26 Christmas Stakes at Mountaineer with a career-high 101 Beyer.

* Think Fast came from western Canada to Woodbine in October, and placed in three consecutive upper-level claimers while recording a string of Beyers in the 70's. Following a seven-week layoff on Jan. 30, she led throughout an optional claimer at Aqueduct, earning a 98 Beyer in her first try for high-percentage trainer Mike Hushion. She struck again at that same level in February, before trailing the field after stumbling badly at the break in the Grade 3 Next Move Handicap.

* Biblical Scholar struggled here at the first allowance category during the second half of 2004, but began to blossom when he shipped to Florida for a busy winter campaign. He won a preliminary allowance in his second Gulfstream appearance, and subsequently took an optional claiming event, before ending up a respectable fourth in the Grade 3 Skip Away Handicap.

* Give Faith finally won his maiden in his 10th start here Nov. 14, before wintering at Aqueduct. After several lackluster performances, he won a $30,000 conditioned claimer, and then went on to hit the board in three straight entry-level allowances.

* After being claimed for $40,000 here Nov. 12, Vroom Hilda went down and then back up the value ladder at the Big A over the winter under the guidance of super-trainer Scott Lake. She got drilled against $30,000 claiming opposition in her first Aqueduct attempt, but was subsequently victorious in four of her next five starts.

* Rain Drummer defeated $10,000 nonwinners-of-three types with a 68 Beyer while being claimed here Oct. 28 by owner Jim Ogilvie, who sent the gelding to Kentucky-based trainer Mike Tammaro in November. After tanking in an $8,000 claiming race when he came off the sidelines Jan. 5, Rain Drummer romped in two of his next three outings in the lower claiming ranks at Turfway, receiving a career-best 87 Beyer in one of those events.

Ogilvie, who lost Rain Drummer for $8,000 on March 31, said he feels that most horses should be given time to settle into their new surroundings after they travel.

"I believe that horses need time to acclimate, unless you have one of those unique horses who ships easily and doesn't need to carry his track around with him," Ogilvie said. "Whether it's going from Woodbine to New York, or from the Fair Grounds or Florida to Kentucky, I think horses need time to adjust to climatic changes and a new surface."

An exception to the notion that Woodbine horses need time to acclimate in order to compete successfully might be when they ship to Fair Grounds. Woodbine-based trainer Josie Carroll sent a large string to the New Orleans oval last fall, as she does every year, and won races at a phenomenal rate during the early portion of the meeting.

Carroll said many of her horses were ready to roll within the first 10 days after they arrived at Fair Grounds, in part because they took to the track quite readily.

"It's a really kind surface," Carroll said. "Horses seem to really like it."