09/28/2004 11:00PM

Look beyond two giants to find value


Riding a wave of publicity and attention surrounding the Oct. 30 Breeders' Cup, Lone Star Park begins a 19-day fall meet on Friday leading up to the big day of racing. For those unfamiliar with Lone Star Park, here are some handicapping observations about the track and Texas racing.

Two trainers instantly come to mind when handicapping Lone Star Park: Steve Asmussen and Cole Norman. Both operate large stables and regularly dominate. During Lone Star's spring-summer meeting this year, first-place Asmussen and runner-up Norman combined to win 143 races, or about a quarter of the races run at the track. The eight other trainers among the top 10 won a total of 144 races.

Asmussen and Norman are expected to win many more races this fall. Asmussen is represented with starters in eight of the track's 10 races on Friday. Norman has two entered at Louisiana Downs on Friday, but is noticeably absent from the Lone Star entries.

To find overlaid prices, bettors may need to play trainers who don't get as much widespread attention as Asmussen and Norman. One such trainer is trainer Dallas Keen, the third-leading trainer behind Asmussen and Norman in Lone Star history. Over the last three Lone Star meets (2002-2004), he has won with 56 of 249 starters (22 percent). A bet on each of those starters would have generated an average return of $2.60 for a $2 wager.

Other high-percentage trainers who show a positive return on investment over the last three meets include Joe Petalino (16 percent winners, $2.32 ROI), Martin Lozano (24 percent, $2.45), Sam David (14 percent, $2.40), Cody Autrey (23 percent, $2.22), and Wes Hawley (20 percent, $2.02). All have won 17 or more races at Lone Star since 2002.

Bret Calhoun also does extremely well at Lone Star (23 percent winners), though his ROI fell just short of being in the black at $1.94.

New to the Lone Star scene this year is trainer Gammy Vazquez, who trains for the country's leading owner, Michael Gill. Vazquez could have as many as 60 horses based at Lone Star this meet. He has three horses entered in two races opening night.

Jockeys who ride regularly for Asmussen, Norman, and Calhoun get the most opportunities and typically fare best at Lone Star. (Donnie Meche and Roman Chapa are Asmussen's go-to riders on Friday's card.)

This spring, Eddie Martin Jr. rode regularly for Calhoun and to a lesser extent for Asmussen and Norman. He was leading rider.

Martin, nursing a broken collarbone, is not expected to ride until the second weekend of the meet at the earliest - which should open up the race for leading jockey. Other riders who have done well at Lone Star include Cliff Berry, Jeremy Beasley, Casey Lambert, and Corey Lanerie.

With Louisiana Downs still in the midst of its season, the jockey colony will be stretched. Some riders are likely to alternate riding between the two tracks, as their agents pick opportune spots.

Lonnie Meche, currently the leading rider at Louisiana Downs, has a number of live mounts on the opening-night card.

In terms of post positions, Lone Star has played fairly in recent years, both on dirt and turf. Inside posts have had little or no advantage over those breaking from the middle positions, even when the start has been close to the turn. Only the far outside positions have been at a disadvantage, and even such a draw has been a relatively minimal hindrance in most circumstances.

Because many bettors tend to favor inside runners in dirt routes and on turf, those breaking close to the fence may prove to be slightly overplayed.

Beyond connections and past trends, handicapping Lone Star Park requires knowledge of the Texas-bred program. Typically a race or two a day is for statebred runners.

Just as Carson City and Elusive Quality sire a high percentage of first-out winners in open company, there are sires based in Texas that are known for their runners being precocious.

Valid Expectations, the leading Texas-based sire of 2-year-olds in 2003, leads the standings based on earnings this year. Other sires who deserve extra consideration when they have horses in races for 2-year-olds include Wild Zone, Magic Cat, Seneca Jones, Golden Regent, Hadif, and Open Forum.

When Texas-breds move to the turf, other sires emerge. Dove Hunt was the leading Texas-based sire of turf horses in 2003 and is in front again this year. Gold Legend is second, and his offspring have the highest average Beyer Speed Figures on turf among the leading Texas-bred sires with 15 or more runners this year.

Valid Expectations, Wild Zone, and Open Forum - whose offspring have done so well in 2-year-old races - have also proven to be solid turf sires, particularly in Texas.

Even with these numbers from current and past years, this meet at Lone Star is a bit of an uncertainty - if for no other reason that it is the track's first fall meet. The timing of the meet may result in some trainers doing better or worse than during the spring, and certain sires may also see their numbers change, particularly as distances for 2-year-old races get longer.