05/22/2007 12:00AM

Playing poker with big dropper


ALBANY, Calif. - One of trainer Jerry Hollendorfer's qualities is fearlessness. No one plays racetrack poker more aggressively than he does.

Realistically, having the most chips to play with - or in Hollendorfer's case, the largest barn - can help. But Hollendorfer is an astute judge of a horse's ability and is never afraid to place a horse where he has the best chance to win. It's one reason he wins so many races (102 this year entering Wednesday's races here) and why he has such a high winning percentage (26).

That fearlessness is on display in Thursday's Golden Gate Fields feature, a $16,000 claimer at one mile where Hollendorfer will send out Ivy League Genius against five other fillies or mares.

Hollendorfer claimed Ivy League Genius, 4, for himself and George Todaro for $25,000 on Jan. 11 at Santa Anita. Ivy League Genius fell over a fallen rival in her debut for Hollendorfer. But then she won a first-level allowance race, and finished second in her last start, a $25,000 optional claimer. She has more than paid her way, earning $31,372 in four starts for Hollendorfer and Todaro.

On the surface, this appears a big drop, from $25,000 to $16,000. But with the summer fair season coming, there won't be many chances for Ivy League Genius to run in Northern California, and she may not be a good fit in Southern California, where Hollendorfer usually sends a string a runners who do not fit the races on the Northern California fair circuit.

Ivy League Genius has an easy half-mile work since she last raced, one of the factors a handicapper can use in assessing if a drop is strategic or there is a potential problem with a Hollendorfer horse.

Ivy League Genius might not be a good bet because Hollendorfer droppers are often hammered down to odds-on territory, particularly when Russell Baze rides, as he does Thursday. They are almost always underlays.

Still, Ivy League Genius's last two main-track races are better than any of her rivals have ever run. She draws a perfect outside post and has the speed to sit wherever she wants, including on the lead, though she'll probably concede that to Misty Miss Cristy.

Misty Miss Cristy's two-race win streak was snapped last time when she ran second and was claimed for $8,000.