03/31/2010 11:00PM

New tests provide betting opportunity


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - A widely accepted tenet of betting horses is to rarely back a favorite trying something new for the first time, the idea being there is not enough reward to justify the risk that the horse won't handle the unfamiliar conditions.

But when a horse trying something new offers value and has merits that suggest it is a prime contender, well, that is the time the go to the betting window.

That is what I'll be doing Saturday, betting Apple Charlotte and Hurricane Ike in the Grade 1 Ashland at Keeneland and Grade 3 Bay Shore at Aqueduct.

Although neither horse has raced over the surface on which they compete Saturday - Apple Charlotte on a synthetic track, and Hurricane Ike on a dirt track - their pedigrees and running styles suggest they will move forward with the changes in surface. Best yet, they are likely to do so at prices.

Starting with the Ashland first, Apple Charlotte has much to offer in the 1 1/16-mile race over Keeneland's Polytrack.

She has been first or second in all four of her starts. She has proven her mettle in stakes company with a runner-up finish in the Grade 3 Herecomesthebride Stakes at Gulfstream. And she is trained by Graham Motion, who points his horses toward the Keeneland meet and consistently wins at a high percentage there.

What she doesn't have is any synthetic experience, having made all of her starts on grass. That will no doubt contribute to her getting overlooked in a field that includes graded-stakes-winning synthetic runners She Be Wild and Negligee, as well as Beautician and Evening Jewel, who have each run second in Grade 1 races on all-weather surfaces.

Statistics suggest Apple Charlotte should love the shift to Polytrack. She is by Smart Strike, an outstanding synthetic sire, and her broodmare sire is Chief's Crown, who also has favorable synthetic stats.

Motion also has a record of success moving horses from turf to synthetic. Since Keeneland changed its main track from dirt to Polytrack in fall 2006, Motion has won at an 18 percent rate with turf-to-synthetic runners; 45 percent hit the board.

She also trained well over the Keeneland Polytrack last fall when she was based in Kentucky, catching the eyes of clockers even before she ran second in her debut at Churchill on turf in November.

What's more, Apple Charlotte comes off a race she likely would have won with a better trip, the March 6 Herecomesthebride. Steadied early passing the stands, she advanced rapidly between horses to gain on the leaders on the final turn, only to clip the heels of another rival at the top of the stretch, costing her position and momentum.

Displaying her athleticism, she soon got back in gear. She finished strongest to grab second, unleashing the kind of turn of foot that is often so vital to winning races on turf and synthetic tracks.

Admittedly, she gets a class test in Saturday's Ashland, but the feeling here is she passes that test at a rewarding mutuel.

Bay Shore: Lots to like about 'Ike'

Meanwhile, in New York at Aqueduct on the Wood undercard, Hurricane Ike looks like a horse poised to jump up in the seven-furlong Bay Shore, moving from Santa Anita's Pro-Ride to dirt. His bloodlines suggest as much, anyway. He is by 1999 Arkansas Derby winner Graeme Hall, out of an unraced dam whose two other foals to race have preferred dirt.

Hurricane Ike's lone win from six starts came on Hollywood Park's Cushion Track, the synthetic surface that most closely plays like dirt.

Beyond the shift in surface pointing to potential improvement, there are other encouraging aspects to Hurricane Ike's past performances, most notably his Beyer Speed Figures. He has paired up Beyers in the mid-80s in his last two starts, and when 3-year-olds do that at this time of year, it often signals upcoming development.

He also makes his second start off a layoff for trainer John Sadler and has trained lights out in recent weeks at Santa Anita. He worked a half-mile in 45.60 seconds March 23 and followed that up with a six-furlong drill in 1:13.20 on March 29.

Coming off a recent third-place finish in one of the strongest sprint allowances at Santa Anita this winter, Hurricane Ike likely will stick to his 7-2 morning price, if not go higher by post time. Such an offering would make him a quality wager.