11/09/2005 12:00AM

Late in Woodbine meet, it pays to go to class


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Knowing the class idiosyncrasies at any given track is important for serious handicappers, and there are many such idiosyncrasies at Woodbine, especially in the fall.

Some of the more obvious class quirks involve Ontario sire maiden special weight and Ontario sire allowance races for 3-year-olds and up. These races are usually comparable to open claiming competition during the later part of this long meeting.

A prime example of this came in November 2004, when Wooden Ships dropped from an open maiden special to compete against $16,000 maidens, running second. Trainer Ian Howard then raised Wooden Ships back up to the Ontario sire maiden classification, and watched her win with just a 52 Beyer Speed Figure, earning $34,200.

"If you have a horse who you think is worth $30,000 or $40,000, he's capable of being competitive in the right Ontario sire race," Howard said. "You can hook some good horses early in the year, but they seem to graduate from the series pretty quickly, and the quality of these races can get quite low by the end of the year."

Ontario-sired runners with some ability and conditions can be a valuable commodity, Howard said.

"The one thing you don't want to give away is an Ontario-sired horse with conditions, because there's so much money available for those horses," he said. "You can be patient and make enough money finishing second, third, or fourth before you win. If you finish second a couple of times, it's like winning a race for $20,000."

Woodbine handicappers have to deal with numerous shippers, mainly from Fort Erie, in the cheaper races at this time of year. Many are automatic throwouts, but those in sharp form who are not rising significantly in value merit close scrutiny.

Numerous Lady placed in two $8,000 claimers at Fort Erie in August before capping her campaign there Oct. 1 with a four-length score in a $5,000 starter allowance, for which she received a 55 Beyer. She subsequently ran third here in a tough $12,500 claimer, and then sprung an 8-1 upset against $10,000 foes last Friday, earning a 57 Beyer.

Horses from Assiniboia Downs have won two races at Woodbine this fall. Cherokee Dancer was a solid allowance performer at that Manitoba track before shipping here to trainer Jody Hammett, who sent him out to win an optional $62,500 claimer Oct. 23. The colt had finished second for $40,000 here before that.

Assiniboia trainer Marty Drexler, who spends each fall at Woodbine buying horses, believes Cherokee Dancer has been something of an overachiever here, and that most stakes and allowance runners from Winnipeg must drop in class to be competitive here.

"If you see a horse who did reasonably well at the stakes level in Winnipeg, they should fit in somewhere around $40,000 or $32,000 at Woodbine," Drexler said.

Successville, who finished third in a pair of Assiniboia maiden special weight events in July, won his maiden for $25,000 claiming here Nov. 2.

"A maiden special horse who's not getting blown out in Winnipeg is probably a solid $20,000 to $25,000 maiden here," Drexler said. "They should be able to pick up checks, and possibly win."

Drexler said maiden special races near the end of the Assiniboia meeting are typically weak, and it is wise to ignore horses exiting those races when they show up here.