05/07/2002 11:00PM

Nagle getting on live longshots

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Handicappers appreciate statistics when they are playing inexperienced horses. With few past performance lines to analyze a race, it is vital to know that offspring of Seeking the Gold win 24 percent of their debuts, or that a dam has produced a couple of first-out winners.

Here is another interesting statistic - although it applies to an inexperienced jockey, not a horse. Valerie Nagle, a 10-pound apprentice who began her career last month at Keeneland, is 4 for 21 (19 percent) heading into Wednesday's card at Churchill Downs.

She has also lit the tote board, with three of her four winners paying 8-1 or more. A $2 win bet on each of her 21 mounts would have yielded $54.40 in profits.

When she won her first race April 20 at Keeneland, she won aboard a 21-1 longshot - Homen Ra - who had faded to lose his previous four races by 11 lengths or more. Yet with Nagle up and carrying just 103 pounds, the horse relaxed on the lead and drew away late from the Pat Day-ridden Sea Run with a final sixteenth in 6.20 seconds.

Other wins followed - one at River Downs, and two more at Churchill. Even her losing mounts outran their odds. In one example, 39-1 Special Insignia was second in the seventh race April 30 at Churchill Downs.

Nagle, 23, an Irish native who was an accomplished dressage rider before switching to riding races, isn't as smooth to watch as Robby Albarado or Day. Few apprentices are.

To this point it hasn't mattered. Horses have responded for her in a way that is far from typical. It might be attributed to her riding experience in dressage or to the weight allowance that comes with being an apprentice.

Her success could also be the result of having a successful agent, Steve Elzey. He was the agent for Kris Prather and Willie Martinez when they dominated the Turfway Park standings, and this spring James Lopez won the Oaklawn Park riding title with Elzey booking the mounts.

Good agents in most cases are good handicappers. He seems to be putting her on live longshots, or it is her ability that is making them live. My guess is that her fast start can be attributed to a combination of factors.

Will these results continue? Because her first 21 mounts returned a profit of over $54 doesn't guarantee the next 21 will. The public is catching on to her success, and the odds on her mounts will inevitably drop.

On the other hand, she is starting to receive opportunities she didn't have a month ago. She is scheduled to ride five horses at Churchill on Wednesday and Thursday, including one for Bernie Flint, regularly one of Kentucky's leading trainers.

I'm anticipating her success continuing. She hasn't capitalized on lesser competition during the winter - as Prather did when riding at Turfway. She has ridden against Day and Albarado, and has held her own. She merits following - and betting.

Anticipating progress

Last month I sought to identify the classiest 3-year-old maiden races at Keeneland by measuring in-the-money percentage, earnings per start, speed figures, and sales prices. Now the early results from horses exiting those races are in.

Of the nine sampled maiden races identified in my column two weeks ago, I focused on the two races that were rated the highest: the fourth race from April 11 and the first from April 5.

I tracked all the runners exiting those races. The results: 13 subsequent starters, one winner, and four runner-up finishes.

Ford Every Stream romped in an allowance at Woodbine after winning the fourth race from April 11, but the rest failed to have their pictures taken. On an encouraging note, several completed exactas at big prices - so there was some opportunity for profits.

Based on the results, it seems wise to not focus entirely on whom a horse faced, but to emphasize which runner could improve on a given day. Anticipating progress seems more important than measuring the past.