06/20/2007 11:00PM

Long layoffs no problem


ELMONT, N.Y. - Some handicapping fundamentals have changed through the years, none more than the subject of days since last start, which has been the jumping-off point for all kinds of betting systems since the days of Pittsburgh Phil.

Nowadays, we know intuitively that when a Birdstone runs in the Travers off a 12-week layoff, or an Invasor runs in the Breeders' Cup Classic without a race since the Whitney, they are apt to produce a top effort nevertheless. Within the next few years, two preps and five or six weeks of rest leading up to the Kentucky Derby will probably be the norm.

To see just how different things were back in the day, I took a quick stroll down memory lane and consulted "The Compleat Horseplayer," by Tom Ainslie. Here's what Ainslie had to say about recency in that 1966 classic book:

"I insist that a horse entered in a claiming or allowance race show two races or workouts, or one of each, within the past seventeen days. . . . Anyone who thinks I am nitpicking too far in these rules will be driven out of his mind by the next one. Regardless of anything said up to now, I believe that any horse which has not raced for twelve days must have had at least one workout during that period. A horse that doesn't meet this requirement gets tossed out . . . these rules will help you to lop off losers and locate contenders."

Damascus was a juvenile the year "The Compleat Horseplayer" was published, and Horse of the Year as a 3-year-old in 1967, when he won 12 of 16 starts at distances ranging from six furlongs to two miles. One of the losses was by a half-length to Dr. Fager in the Gotham, and another was by a nose to Fort Marcy when tried on grass in the Washington D.C. International, two weeks after winning the two-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup in his 15th start of the season.

Boy, can you just imagine a typical modern-day Thoroughbred trying to survive under a similar schedule? The poor creature might spontaneously combust in a puff of smoke. Last Saturday's card provided a constant barrage of reminders that handicappers should be extra-lenient with layoff horses during the preliminary stages of selecting contenders. The last eight races were won by horses that had been laid off for at least 30 days. Here's the list, along with payoff, trainer, and date of last race:

* Stormin Normandy ($7.70, Richard Dutrow Jr., Oct. 18).

* Memphis Mon ($6.40, Jimmy Jerkens, May 16).

* Parading ($9.10, Shug McGaughey, Aug. 6).

* Ruffino ($4.80, Jim Bond, May 11).

* Armament ($7.80, Dutrow, Sept. 23).

* Leadwithyourchin ($30.80, Mike Hushion, Sept. 23).

* Take D' Tour ($4.10, David Fawkes, April 7).

* Jacks Express ($12.20, Jimmy Jerkens, April 28).

A common trait among the inactive eight was an encouraging pattern of workouts. They did not have to be exceptionally fast works, either. Armament tuned up for his 1 1/16-mile turf route with two works ranked slowest of the morning at the distance (12th of 12 and 49th of 49), and a five-furlong move in 1:07 ranked 10th of 11.

Take D' Tour, who had been working bullets at Calder, staged a successful defense of her Ogden Phipps title. She had not run since a runner-up finish in the Apple Blossom 10 weeks earlier, and prior to that had not run since the Sunshine Millions Distaff in January.

"We decided to stretch her races out this year and give her more time between starts,"' said Fawkes. "I think that is what cost a chance to go to the Breeders' Cup last year."

He said her next race would probably be the Molly Pitcher at Monmouth on Aug. 25.

A day later, Indian Flare ($7.30), coming off a 62-day layoff, came again on the rail to win the Vagrancy Handicap over Oprah Winney, who had been absent for 85 days. I'm thinking it would've been a tough weekend for Ainslie.

Guaranteed pools a great bet

The results of last Saturday's $250,000-guaranteed all-stakes pick four at Churchill Downs continued to demonstrate the outstanding value of such bets. The guaranteed pool was met nearly twice over, at $451,920, and the $2 payoff of $2,780 was over 2 1/2 times the parlay price of $1,068. These bets usually offer good value, but this one became an exceptional value after Quite a Bride ($7.60) kicked things off by wiring the Mint Julep, with Danzon third as the shortest price in the sequence at 4-5, and thereby incinerating a lot of under-funded plays.

When a 5-2 second choice upends an odds-on favorite, it has the potential to become a turbocharged low-odds winner in the exotic pools - probably the single best reason to forgo betting such horses to win.