03/12/2009 12:00AM

Pitfalls of falling for flashy debut winners

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Prior to the second career start by 3-year-old Supreme Summit on Wednesday at Santa Anita, smug handicappers planned to wager against the impressive maiden winner facing a good field of allowance sprinters.

Yes, he was the controlling speed. True, his debut ranked among the top maiden wins of winter; his 91 Beyer was the highest figure in Wednesday's field. But so what? Everyone knows a smashing first-out win does not automatically translate to second-start victory.

It made sense to take a stand against Supreme Summit, who could be another in a long line of winter-meet debut winners to fall short second time out. And it's a long list.

Ready Steady Gone, Temple City, Deputy Flyer, Miss Silver Brook, Hudler, The Major, and Shock the Board all won their debut this meet in relatively sharp fashion; they all lost their second start at odds of 3-1 or less.

This winter at Santa Anita, bettors have been unable to resist temptation. No matter how fast they have run, or how far they won by, debut winners often have proven too good to be true in an allowance or a stakes.

"For one thing, you're running against winners," trainer Jeff Mullins said, explaining why debut winners often lose second time out.

It is a simple enough explanation, yet handicappers (including this one) continue to be seduced by high figures. We will be again when Mullins-trained Leavenworth makes his second start.

Leavenworth debuted like a star on March 7. A son of Forest Wildcat, Leavenworth raced wire to wire from the inside post, clocking 6 1/2 furlongs in a quick 1:15.34 and earning a sky-high 95 Beyer. Mullins trainees don't do that first time out.

"The last one I remember running like that was Wild Fit," Mullins said. "To run that good for me first time they have to be a pretty good horse."

Wild Fit won her 2005 debut by four lengths, and wheeled back 13 days later to win the Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante.

Pretty good horse, indeed. So will Leavenworth win back to back, or finish up the track? His next start is not likely to be until April at the earliest. Stay tuned.

Trainer Carla Gaines leads the meet with four debut winners - Point Encounter, Temple City, Vaundell, and Excessive Blend. Only one has run back. Temple City's fourth-place finish at 5-2 in an allowance route adds anecdotal evidence that maiden winners are up against it.

"Not fair, you can't judge that," Gaines countered.

She may be right. In his first start against winners on Jan. 24, Temple City clipped heels into the first turn, went to his nose, and was unable to recover. He finished fourth, and then won his next start.

Point Encounter is out, but sharp debut winners Vaundell and Excessive Blend (both by the excellent debut stallion In Excess) will face the maiden-to-allowance challenge in weeks ahead.

"I don't know why they don't all come back and win, probably just the fact they were running against maidens," Gaines said.

So are Vaundell and Excessive Blend one-hit wonders?

"I would be shocked if they were," Gaines said.

She is particularly high on Excessive Blend, whose 4 1/2-length debut victory March 8 and superior pedigree suggests she is a stakes filly.

Excessive Blend is out of Blending Element, who produced Grade 3 winner Tiz Elemental and minor stakes winner Tiz a Blend. Excessive Blend may be better than both, Gaines said. "Out of all the progeny of that mare, [Excessive Blend] outshines them all; she is the most beautiful foal she's had so far."

Write it down - another big debut winner to decipher next month in her second start. Excessive Blend will be difficult to oppose based on her only start. She broke slowly, made a sustained run to reach contention, and drew out by more than four.

"It was pretty amazing, I didn't expect that after the first part of the race," Gaines said.

Excessive Blend is eligible to a first-level allowance for statebreds, while Kentucky-bred debut winner Witty will be favored when she faces open company in her next start. Witty, a Distorted Humor half-sister to Well Armed, won her March 4 debut for trainer Richard Mandella by 3 1/2 lengths with a 92 Beyer.

All these flashy debut winners make it an interesting spring. Some will regress at low odds, and lose their second career start like so many others this meet. Among those who have run back, only three of the 16 debut winners have won again.

The most surprising repeat winner was 3-year-old filly Heartless Vixen, trained by Ron Ellis. Her off-the-pace debut victory in February earned a low 71 Beyer, supposedly not good enough to win a first-level allowance. But it was the way she won, by rallying from behind, that impressed her trainer.

"She really only ran an eighth of a mile that day," Ellis said. "When you only ask them to run a little bit, and they win easy, how do you know how much is left in the tank?"

Plenty, as it turns out. Heartless Vixen came back March 5 to crush a first-level allowance field by more than four lengths, paying $27.60 and earning another low Beyer, 83. However, Ellis cautions, "Numbers are tough [to interpret], especially on synthetic."

Ellis theorized it is easier for stretch-running debut winners to repeat, which is what Heartless Vixen did. But he warned: "I don't think there are any absolutes on this stuff."

Smug handicappers were reminded of the fact Wednesday in race 6. Supreme Summit, a front-runner trained by Doug O'Neill, was ignored by bettors, and drifted up from his 7-2 morning line in the 6 1/2-furlong allowance.

Supreme Summit led virtually wire to wire in a blazing 1:15.13; he earned a 101 Beyer Figure and returned $10.40 to bettors who followed a primitive strategy.

Sometimes, the best horse wins.