04/25/2006 11:00PM

The lowdown on layoff horses

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Form cycles play an important role in the handicapping process during the spring at Woodbine. Speculating as to which horses are ready to roll right off the bat and which are not can be a guessing game, but clues can be gleaned from the past performances and other reference materials.

Many runners need at least a race or two after a winter layoff to help build up their fitness level. Those that race forwardly before flattening out in the stretch of their comeback race are often sharper in their subsequent outings.

Main Executive's front-running victory at overlaid odds of 4-1 in an optional claimer last Saturday came in his second start after a winter break. He was a fading third in his season opener, which was similar to the effort he put forth in his debut last summer, after which he graduated convincingly. The Beyer Speed Figures for his first two starts last year were 82 and 91, compared to 74 and 93 this year.

Conversely, horses that run a big one first time off the shelf are often susceptible to a bounce or regression in their next appearance. They are usually sent off at low odds, making them prime bait for handicappers on the lookout for vulnerable favorites.

A prime example came last Friday, when Outstand was sent off as the favorite in a $40,000 nonwinners-of-three claimer off her runaway layoff score in a $40,000 nonwinners of two just a week earlier. Running back quickly certainly took its toll on Outstand, who retreated in the stretch after a wide stalking journey.

Horses that have a history of performing strongly off a layoff are always worthy of serious consideration in the first start of their form cycle, provided that they've been working on a regular basis.

President's Gal paid a generous $15.10 when capturing last Saturday's second race in her first outing of the year, even though she had never been worse than second when running fresh. She finished second in her debut in January of 2005 at Gulfstream, and won her maiden here last spring after a two-month layoff. Following a three-month break in early October, she dropped a nose decision after mounting a wide rally.

Jim Mazur's 2006 edition of the Woodbine Handicapper lists a variety of statistics covering 2004-05 for the many trainers, including how their runners fared in the first, second, and subsequent starts of the meeting.

Those who had a win percentage of at least 20 in their first start of the meeting are: Gail Casselman-Cox, Eric Coatrieux, Sam DiPasquale, Dave Dwyer, Scott Fairlie, Mark Frostad, Nick Gonazlez, Jody Hammett, Red Johnson, Mike Mareina, Paul Nielsen, Lorne Richards, Bill Tharrenos, Bob Tiller, Nancy Triola, and Danny Vella.

Trainers possessing a win percentage of at least 20 in their second start of the meeting are: Sid Attard, Darwin Banach, Coatrieux, Dwyer, Ed Freeman, Layne Giliforte, Radlie Loney, Frank Passero Jr., Malcolm Pierce, Noel Randall, Lorne Richards, Ron Sadler, Tharrenos, Tiller, and Triola.

Mud shoes, it must be the mud shoes

Wet tracks will become a thing of the past at Woodbine when Polytrack is introduced in September, because that synthetic surface is always labeled fast.

Throughout the next four months, handicappers should upgrade the chances of any runner wearing mud shoes when the track is sloppy, which was the case last weekend. A total of 19 horses wore mud shoes then and 7 of them won, while 4 finished second and 2 wound up third.

Only two runners wore mud shoes in Saturday's Woodstock Stakes - Atlas Shrugs and Vibank. They ran one-two, for an exactor payoff of $100.30

The three runners who used mud shoes in Saturday's eighth race filled out the first three positions, producing a triactor payoff of $237.70.

The most prominent trainers who used mud shoes on the weekend were Reade Baker, who won three races, Bob Tiller, and Mike DePaulo.