03/12/2003 12:00AM

New riding tactic can pay off


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Everything goes in cycles. Racetrack excuses are no different.

Years ago, the popular excuse when a favorite lost was that he didn't handle the track. That eventually gave way to bleeding. Now that almost every horse is on Lasix, the new choice is that he couldn't get his air.

Believable or baloney - that is the question. This Friday, I'm siding with the believers.

I want to believe that My Boston Gal can be forgiven for her disastrous seasonal debut in the Davona Dale Stakes, a race in which she finished fifth, beaten 21 lengths. Since I believe that, I also believe she will beat Ivanavinalot (also entered in the Florida Oaks), Spin Control, Westerly Breeze, and several other quality fillies in Friday's Bonnie Miss Stakes at Gulfstream Park.

I hope I'm alone, though I doubt it. My Boston Gal has more fans than Britney Spears, and virtually every one of them - myself included - regarded My Boston Gal as being among the elite fillies in the country after watching her win her first three races in Kentucky last fall.

So what happened when she finished last when returning from a break in the Davona Dale Stakes? According to Daily Racing Form reports, trainer Carl Nafzger said she had an ulcer on her epiglottis, which restricted her breathing.

Having watched the race, I have little doubt that something restricted her breathing. Through the first turn and into the backstretch, she was virtually pulling jockey Calvin Borel out of the saddle. Then in a matter of seconds, Borel went from having all kinds of horse to having no horse, and My Boston Gal retreated to the back of the pack. The race was simply too bad to be true.

Following that experience, I would anticipate her being ridden differently. Jockeys have told me the best way to ride a horse with wind problems is to sit as still as possible - don't take too big of a hold or get too aggressive early. This keeps them relaxed and better able to breathe.

Guess who her rider is in the Bonnie Miss? Mister sit-still himself, Pat Day.

A motionless style of riding is in part why front-runners with breathing problems perform so much better when clear on the lead. Their riders can sit idle, and the horse is more comfortable without another horse eyeballing her.

Additionally, equipment changes and medicine can also improve the situation.

Nafzger, for one, seemed encouraged after finding out the cause for her poor effort.

"I like her even better now that I know about the problem," he said. "It's gone and she's ready."

Good. I'm ready, too . . . ready for My Boston Gal to redeem herself in the Bonnie Miss.

Proving time for Badge of Silver

In a few more weeks, another case of the breathing excuse will be put to test when Badge of Silver returns in the Illinois Derby.

Badge of Silver, a disappointing sixth in the Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds, is reportedly going to undergo a surgical procedure called a myectomy to correct a breathing problem.

I have seen horses come back from these surgeries to excel. Others continue to have problems getting their air.

I don't believe Badge of Silver is a good bet in the Illinois Derby. His price will likely remain too short.

But I am intrigued to see if he can return to the brilliance he displayed in the Risen Star Stakes or if wind problems will continue to plague him. The Illinois Derby should provide at least some clues as to whether he can be a threat in the Triple Crown.