09/02/2005 12:00AM

A prime spot to go against the obvious

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - With favorites holding strong at 114 for 301 (37.8 percent) at Saratoga through Thursday, prudent bettors have insisted on having a pretty good reason to go against the obvious form horses at the meet.

They have found that the best place to go shopping for value is not the outlet stores in nearby Lake George, but in just about any maiden turf race for 2-year-olds.

The top five reasons:

* More of them are being carded with each passing summer.

* They tend to draw large fields.

* There are rarely any MOTO (master of the obvious) horses for chalk players to latch onto, and when there are, it is usually for the wrong reasons.

* Flashy workouts leading into turf routes mean nothing, or at least much less than they do in dirt sprints at five furlongs, which are exhibitions of raw speed.

* Steve Asmussen and Patrick Biancone run most of their juveniles on the main track.

Of the 13 turf races for 2-year-old maidens at the meet, only one was won by the favorite, and that winner, a 3-5 shot named J'Ray, was the "wrong" half of a Todd Pletcher-trained entry, along with third-place finisher Towering Escape.

Unlike the baby sprints on dirt, where it was pretty much all Asmussen, Biancone, and Pletcher all the time, nobody has dominated the 2-year-old turf scene. Pletcher has won three of the races, and John Kimmel won two in as many days. But eight other trainers have divided up the rest of the spoils: Tom Bush, Gary Contessa, Stanley Hough, Lisa Lewis, Shug McGaughey, Graham Motion, Sal Russo, and Randy Schulhofer.

Even figuring in J'Ray, who certainly would have been a much higher price running on his own, the average win mutuel for the baker's dozen was just a few cents short of $17, and nine of them paid $11.40 or better.

Pedigree counts heavily in these races for inexperienced horses. The guidelines for the Tomlinson ratings, published in Daily Racing Form regularly, suggest that horses with a rating of 280 or better merit further consideration when trying the grass for the first or second time. Ten of the 13 winners were rated at 295 or higher, and two of the exceptions had extenuating circumstances:

Smoke Em Again (231 rating) capitalized on an edge in experience, having already run in two turf routes at Colonial Downs before shipping to the Spa for Graham Motion, who has been live all meet with his turf horses.

Wedding Singer won one of the two juvenile turf sprints of the meet. I haven't had enough experience with turf sprints to know with any degree of certainty, but all logic and intuition suggest that the shorter a turf race gets, the less pedigree matters.

The only real anomaly was first-time starter Immersed in Gold (235 rating), a half-brother to the Grade 1 dirt winner Stephen Got Even, who was up in the last stride to catch Heights as the second of Kimmel's winners.

Otherwise, high-rated horses paid handsomely. Carriage Trail, a son of the multiple Group 1 champion Giant's Causeway, was rated strongly at 356 and paid $11.40.

Kimmel's other winner, the New York-bred My Interpretation, was rated at 307, but it's well worth noting that even though his sire, Freud, peaked with a third-place finish in the Group 2 Cork and Orrery overseas, he is a full brother to Giant's Causeway. Freud is also the sire of Oedipus O'Neal (322 rating), a Gary Contessa-trained juvenile who stretched out from two sprints on dirt and turf and won a turf route at $15 on Aug. 22.

The two other emerging turf sires to make themselves noticed were More than Ready and Lemon Drop Kid, winner of the Belmont Stakes and Travers, who sired two juvenile turf winners at the meet, Perilous Pursuit ($35.40) and Kid Carousel ($36.20). Particularly noteworthy is that Kid Carousel (319 rating) stretched out and switched to turf two weeks after finishing 12th in his six-furlong debut on the main track.

Finding the winner in 2-year-old maiden turf races is difficult - that's why the average mutuel is nearly $17.

If handicappers simply bear the following in mind, they will be on the right track when it comes to maiden turf races for 2-year-olds:

These are not the spots to take a stand with short-priced singles in multiple-race exotics; these are the spots to include any and all runners from capable barns whose bloodlines indicate potential on the grass.