11/15/2002 1:00AM

Minor form can yield major value

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Give handicappers a shipper who shows good form at a major league track and competitive Beyer Speed Figures, and the horse will probably be well supported at an underlaid price. But bettors aren't nearly as confident in evaluating the chances of a horse who owns competitive, or strong, Beyer Figures but is moving from a minor track to a major track.

Life Savior, who ran in the second race at Churchill on Nov. 9, is a good example. She is a 2-year-old filly who debuted at Hoosier Park on Oct. 18. She showed tactical speed and finished third, beaten by three lengths, in a $15,000 maiden claiming race. That performance earned her a Beyer Figure of 55.

A little more than three weeks later, Life Savior showed up in a $30,000 maiden claiming field at Churchill. The raise from $15,000 to $30,000 would have been a concern even if she had remained at Hoosier. Combine the class jump with the move to a major league track, and it seemed safe to guess that Life Savior would be in over her head.

A glance at the past performances of the horses entered against Life Savior at Churchill revealed something surprising: With the exception of Life Savior, this $30,000 field did not contain a single horse who had managed to earn anything better than a Beyer of 32 last time out. Her opponents had lost their most recent races by an average of more than 18 lengths, and that margin did not include a horse who had dropped so far back that she had been eased last time.

There were two first-time starters in the field. One of them was Phillie City, who was the second betting choice at 4-1. A lot of that support, though, was probably owed to the fact that Pat Day was in the saddle. In a field that clearly lacked depth, any horse with ability, and with Day aboard, should have taken a lot more money than that. Phillie City's trainer, Greg Foley, shows an impressive 22 percent winners overall this year, so it is significant that he had won with only 8 percent of 38 first-time starters. They first-timers were not good betting material either, producing a low $0.73 ROI on each $2 bet. The other debuting runner was Go Go Rachael, who showed slow works and received little support as a 40-1 longshot.

As it turns out, this $30,000 field at Churchill was inferior to the $15,000 field at Hoosier, and actually represented a class drop, rather than a class raise for Life Savior. She proved that point when she scored by 4 1/2 lengths without being asked for her best. Life Savior deserved to be about 4-5, so her $7 win payoff was a considerable overlay.

There were other bargains to be found on Hoosier shippers at Churchill on Nov. 9, including in the first race. Bailadora had won five of her last eight races, including a N1X allowance at Hoosier, with Beyers only slightly lower than those of 3-5 first-race favorite Savannah Hanna. Bailadora came within a nose of beating the favorite at a shade less than 4-1 in that six-horse field.

Fourth-race entrant Pass Rush had finished in mid-pack behind Perfect Drift in the Grade 3 Indiana Derby, then dominated an Indiana-bred stakes field in an 8 1/4-length win as the 1-5 favorite in his next start. After the scratch of American Style, Pass Rush appeared to be second-best on paper in the fourth behind Najran, the 1-5 favorite in this $80,000 optional claiming field. But Pass Rush exceeded expectations when he lost to the favorite by only a head at 4-1 in that six-horse field.

Bare Necessities shipped in from Del Mar to Hoosier and won the Indiana Breeders' Cup Oaks by eight lengths. On Nov. 9, she ran a better race than most bettors expected in the Grade 2 Churchill Downs Distaff when she finished only a neck behind 23-1 longshot winner Softly as the fourth betting choice in the race at 6-1.

Until bettors catch on, there will be more overlays to be found when horses who ran well at Hoosier try their luck at Churchill.