03/31/2005 1:00AM

Note to Big A track-bias fans: There isn't any.


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - It was a sad day for bias handicappers when John Passero took over as New York track superintendent in early January. I was leafing through the past couple of months' worth of Daily Racing Form Simulcast Weekly issues, specifically my notations in the "Track Trends" section, and noticed my comment for the overwhelming majority of days is simply, "No apparent trends."

There were a handful of exceptions, such as a golden rail speed track on Feb. 9, and generally speed-favoring programs on Feb. 17 and March 12. But overall, the monotonous consistency of NYRA racetracks has been nothing short of amazing, particularly since this period covers both the inner and main tracks through the end of winter, when there were plenty of weather-related circumstances to deal with on a daily basis. Remember, the main track's opening was twice delayed. But through rain, sleet, snow, and sun there have been virtually no apparent trends.

So bias handicapping is on the back burner (at least until we get to Belmont Park next month and see whether Mr. Passero can tame Big Sandy's infamous dead rail), and it's back to the basics of class, speed, pace, and form.

Usually, how a race is won is a result of the pace matchup. Those who are familiar with the Sartin feet-per-second methodology or Tom Brohamer's benchmark tome "Modern Pace Handicapping" are familiar with the following terms used to describe running styles:

- Early: A horse who habitually sets or forces the pace from very close range.

- Sustained: A horse who rallies from well behind.

- Presser: A horse who presses the pace from not too far behind.

Horses are designated as either "E" for early, "S" for sustained, or "P" for presser.

In other words, "ESP" is used to predict the future. Get it?

Those who are more familiar with Jim Mazur's track-specific handicapping booklets have seen Early, Sustained, and Presser referred to instead as Wire, Rally, and Stalk.

For purposes of analyzing the first seven racing days on the main track, we'll use Mazur's definitions of race-winning styles: Wire is a horse that fought for the early lead, and was never more than a half-length from the front. Stalk is a horse that was at least a half-length behind but never more than four lengths behind. And Rally is a horse that closed from more than four lengths behind at one or more calls of the race.

Next Saturday's Carter Handicap and Bay Shore Stakes go at seven furlongs, while 1 1/8 miles is the distance of Saturday's Excelsior Handicap and next Saturday's Wood Memorial. Let's focus on how races at those distances have been playing:

Seven furlongs:

Total races, 9

Wire winners, 1

Stalk winners, 4

Rally winners, 4

Comment: Only one wire job is a bit surprising. So, too, is the number of late-rallying winners, a total that includes the longshot Dixie Talking ($56.50) from next-to-last in the Cicada Stakes.

1 1/8 miles:

Total races, 9

Wire winners, 2

Stalk winners, 4

Rally winners, 3

Comment: No significant trends to speak of. Post positions have been a non-factor since the largest field has been nine, and six of the races went with seven or fewer runners.

From the rail out, here is how the Excelsior field matches up in terms of ESP:

Cuba: P

Diligent Gambler: P

Offlee Wild: P

Country Be Gold: S

Rogue Agent: E

Coast Line: E

Presidentialaffair: E

Three or more "E" horses usually spells trouble for the early speed horses. The Excelsior favors a "P" or an "S" kind of runner, and of those Offlee Wild clearly owns the most horsepower. Whereas he had to chase Coast Line when that one was the only "E" in the recent John Campbell Handicap at Laurel, this time Coast Line figures to have plenty of company in the early going.

Of course, Offlee Wild's advantage assumes that he does not "bounce" after a big-figure effort through a stretch-long drive in his first start back from a long layoff last time. Remember that Saint Liam, another 5-year-old who rocketed to prominence last year after being taken over by trainer Richard Dutrow Jr., ran huge to win the Donn Handicap in his 2005 debut, but then regressed sharply and finished off the board next out in the Santa Anita Handicap.

"[Offlee Wild] ran big in the Campbell. He had to chase all the way. This race should set up better," said Dutrow, who added that Offlee Wild " . . . runs down a little bit, so that's why I'll run him in fronts [bandages]."

A forecast for heavy rain Friday night into early Saturday is another variable to consider. But whatever the state of the main track come post time, come hell or high water, recent past performances suggest it will be the most level playing field possible.