06/22/2005 11:00PM

Look for Gators N Bears to be his usual self


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Some bettors look for a bounce after a horse runs an unusually fast race. Yet few expect a horse to revert to his customary form after an uncharacteristically slow performance.

Rather, a poor last race often leads bettors to conclude that a horse is going off form, particularly when there is not an excuse clearly present in the past performances.

I'm hoping the public views Gators N Bears that way in Saturday's Grade 3 Aristides Breeders' Cup at Churchill Downs. That could potentially make him an overlay against graded stakes winners Bwana Charlie and Battle Won.

How badly did Gators N Bears bounce in his latest? After running Beyer Speed Figures of 110, 108, and 110 in his first three starts of the year, he dropped all the way down to an 88 when he finished fourth as the favorite at Pimlico in the May 21 Maryland Breeders' Cup, a race he had won in 2004.

There were no visible excuses. He raced within range of a slow pace and came up empty, losing by 4 1/2 lengths to horses of seemingly lesser quality than those he will face in the six-furlong Aristides.

I'm expecting him to bounce back on the basis of his speed and consistency. Over his last 18 races - a stretch dating back to July 2003 - Gators N Bears has run 15 triple-digit Beyer Figures. Over that period, he never once failed to return to running a triple-digit Beyer after falling below that threshold for a single race. He won the Sonny Hine Stakes at Laurel in 2003 with a Beyer of 105 after running an 86 while finishing third in the Friendly Lover Stakes at Monmouth. And he ran second in the Paumonok Handicap at Aqueduct in January with a Beyer of 110 after posting a 98 when finishing fourth in the Gravesend Handicap in his preceding race. If he again reverts to running his customary Beyer in the 103-110 range, his opponents will need to run their best to beat him.

In addition to his figures, Gators N Bears has the class to suggest he can effectively rebound. He has won more than $795,000, easily the most of any starter in the Aristides, and he leads the field with average earnings per start in 2004-2005.

And perhaps most importantly, I like the confidence owner-trainer Leo Nechamkin shows in Gators N Bears by shipping him from his Laurel base. With Gators N Bears coming off a less-than-stellar performance, the conservative route would have been to regroup in a local allowance or stakes. Instead, Nechamkin goes to the expense to bring him to Churchill, along with the horse's regular rider, Chuck Lopez.

Kentucky horseplayers learned of the potential of Gators N Bears when he gave Clock Stopper all he wanted when he ran second to him at 9-1 in the Commonwealth Breeders' Cup in April at Keeneland. He won't be near that price Saturday in a short field, but he should offer value as likely the second or third choice in the wagering.

Quarantine may not be a negative

The Aristides will be the first race for Bwana Charlie since March, a break that was partially the result of his being stuck in a quarantined barn for about a month at Churchill Downs after the discovery of several cases of equine herpes. His trainer, Steve Asmussen, had wanted to run him on the Preakness undercard at Pimlico in the Maryland Breeders' Cup, the race in which Gators N Bears last raced unsuccessfully.

Like all the quarantined horses here, he was unable to race or be shipped for about three to four weeks, and was able to train only separately from the general horse population. Despite those obstacles, I'm fully expecting Bwana Charlie to be at full strength for his return.

Through Wednesday, horses who were quarantined in Asmussen's Churchill stable from mid-May to mid-June were 8-3-0-1 since being allowed to return to competition. They have even outperformed his horses who have started here after being brought in to race from Keeneland, Arlington, and Lone Star.

Trainers of other quarantined horses have also won at Churchill in recent weeks. Trainer Paul McGee, who had over 30 horses quarantined but never had one become sick, has gone 17-5-3-3 since his stable was allowed to resume racing June 4. In addition, Don't Get Mad, another quarantined horse, won the Northern Dancer last week after being prepped locally by McGee for his brother-in-law, trainer Ron Ellis.

Of the remaining stables that were quarantined, trainer Ronny Werner is 8-1-0-1, and Bill Cesare is 3-0-0-1.