09/18/2003 12:00AM

Ones that got away can teach us plenty


ELMONT, N.Y. - It's a handicapping ritual we perform every racing day: looking back through the Form to see how we missed that long-priced winner.

Even though favorites at Belmont Park are winning at 39 percent (33 for 85) through the first nine days of the meet, there have been ample opportunities for longshot players who know what to look for, and when to start looking in the first place.

Since history is the best teacher, what follows is a chronological review of the 11 winners at the meet who went off at 10-1 or better. I had none of them, but several looked playable with the sharpened focus of 20-20 hindsight.

1. Sept. 6, 2nd - Ballado Chieftan ($26.80). Trainer: Nick Zito. Class: Maiden special weight.

Lightly raced maidens are always eligible to improve, and that was the case with Ballado Chieftan, whose runner-up finish in the slop as a second-time starter had earned a 73 Beyer, within range of the top figure. His follow-up start had been a turf route in which he dueled for the lead before fading to wind up 10th, and he wheeled back on six days' rest to drill maidens by six lengths.

And what of the favorite? Big Country finished a nonthreatening third at 6-5. In four lifetime starts, Big Country had never been closer than fifth at the pace call; favorites with no early speed on dirt are vulnerable.

2. Sept. 6, 7th - Buy the Sport ($98). Trainer: Brian Meehan. Class: Grade 1 stakes.

Buy the Sport's form in Europe left something to be desired going into the Gazelle Handicap, but she isn't the first import to improve by leaps and bounds. Later on the card, for example, a horse by the name of Mineshaft - perhaps you've heard of him - won for the eighth time in 10 U.S. starts, after winning one of seven in Europe.

And what of the favorite? Lady Tak was odds-on after a big-figure score in the seven-furlong Test, but she was stretching to nine furlongs in the Gazelle and weakened late.

3. Sept. 6, 8th - Lunar Sovereign ($22). Trainer: Kiaran McLaughlin. Class: Grade 2 stakes.

Two lessons came to mind after Lunar Sovereign smoked his rivals in the Man o' War. First, the race was on the Belmont turf, where he was 3 for 3, having won all three by open lengths with Beyers of 103-105-104. One of those wins was a six-length romp at the Man o' War's 11-furlong trip. Lunar Sovereign threw many bettors off the scent, this one included, with a lackluster effort in the Sword Dancer at Saratoga, and therein lies lesson No. 2: Be willing to forgive a horse one off race, especially if he is returning to a preferred venue.

And what of the favorite? Denon ran third at 7-5, his third straight loss as the chalk.

4. Sept. 7, 1st - Stylish Mission ($25). Trainer: Patrick Reynolds. Class: $18,000 claiming.

Another horse-for-course play. Stylish Mission had lost 12 straight during the past 14 months, managing to Beyer 60 or better four times. Three of those 60's had come at Belmont, though, and such a number was good enough to contend.

And what of the favorite? Head Over Heels ran second as the 9-5 choice. She had shipped to win at Belmont in May, but in a longer sprint.

5. Sept. 7, 10th - Royal Affirmed ($28.40). Trainer: Faustino Ramos. Class: $75,000 claiming.

Royal Affirmed was shipped from New Jersey to wire an allowance race on Belmont turf last fall, and he repeated that form pattern. In each instance there was a rider switch to Julio Pezua.

Royal Affirmed was allowed to set a leisurely pace of 25.00 and 49.67 seconds in the nine-furlong turf route, and school was out.

And what of the favorite? Aslaaf, dropping in class for his second start since November and first since July, was lukewarm at 3-1 and tired after prompting the pace.

6. Sept. 10, 8th - Perfect Energy ($36.20). Trainer: Gary Sciacca. Class: Restricted stakes.

Another case of a horse for the course getting things its own way on the lead and taking advantage. Perfect Energy improved to 3 for 5 on Belmont's inner turf course (1 for 10 on any other surface) after setting opening splits of 24.81 and 49.51 seconds and holding on.

And what of the favorite? The crowd was confused and made three horses 3-1 in the seven-horse field. They finished fifth, sixth, and seventh.

7. Sept. 12, 1st - Irish Glory ($22.80). Trainer: Leo O'Brien. Class: $35,000 claiming.

In addition to meeting claimers for the first time on dirt, Irish Glory reprised a form pattern that had worked before: cutting back from a mile turf race to a dirt sprint, as she had done on this track last year to win a statebred allowance at nearly 8-1.

And what of the favorite? Raised Eyebrows ran next to last at 8-5. She had been claimed from a fifth-place finish at the same level on July 28 and had been idle since then, with only two published workouts.

8. Sept. 13, 4th - Whitewaterspritzer ($23). Trainer: Gary Contessa. Class: $35,000 claiming.

'Spritzer' has a knack for surprising people, having posted seven straight losses since a $69 shocker at Aqueduct back in April. He was switching back to turf, where he had won one of two starts earlier in his career, but perhaps more importantly he was stretching to a route for a trainer who boasted a $3.10 ROI in 125 previous sprint-to-route situations.

9. Sept. 13, 7th - Della Francesca ($34.60). Trainer: Niall O'Callaghan. Class: Grade 2 stakes.

He was a Group 3 winner in Europe last year, and that meant he classed up in the Belmont Breeders' Cup Handicap, where only one entrant had won so much as a Grade 3 stakes on turf this year.

And what of the favorite? Volponi was 3-5, and back on turf for the first time since running second in this race at 4-5 last year. Volponi has a way of surprising people, too: Along with his Breeders' Cup Classic win at 43-1, he has now lost five times at odds-on since the spring of 2002.

10. Sept. 14, 2nd - Majestic Miesque ($22.40). Trainer: Sciacca. Class: New York-bred allowance.

She was just 1 for 10 going in, but that one win had come at Belmont first time out this year, and she was coming off a seven-week freshening.

And what of the favorite? Cargo Ship was 6-5 after a front-running debut win, but ranked only third-fastest in terms of recent Beyers. If you're backing a 6-5 shot, the horse should have a figure edge.

11. Sept. 17, 7th - Autistic Girl ($41.60). Trainer: Patrick Kelly. Class: New York-bred allowance.

Maiden winner going seven furlongs on Belmont dirt. She was returning to seven furlongs for the first time since then, after a five-wide trip from the extreme outside post on turf.

Of significance to angle bettors and trend followers, Autistic Girl was the fifth turf-to-dirt winner in this 11-winner sample (and a sixth was dirt-to-turf).

And what of the favorite? Cimarron Rain had finished off the board at 3-5 in her first try at this level and managed to hold second by a nose at 3-2.