05/12/2004 12:00AM

The real deal on shipping from Woodbine to Fort Erie


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Handicappers who pay attention to track bias can reap the benefits when Woodbine horses ship to Fort Erie.

A prime example of this came when Sir Austin came off a winter layoff and was beaten nearly 19 lengths after running on a dead rail in a $12,500 claimer April 24 at Woodbine. Sir Austin subsequently met $7,500 nonwinners-of-three opposition May 1 at Fort Erie, and scored a front-running win as a 7-1 overlay.

Speedy Comet ran fourth after running on the inside in the same $12,500 claimer at Woodbine. That race served as a useful tightener for his next start, in a $5,000 starter allowance at the Fort, which he won at 5-2 after holding two rivals at bay through the final furlong.

There are other factors to consider when betting horses moving from Woodbine to Fort Erie.

Layne Giliforte, Fort Erie's leading trainer each of the last six years, said Fort Erie's surface traditionally has been kinder to late runners and to horses with problems than Woodbine's main track.

"Woodbine is a more speed-favoring track," Giliforte said. "It has a shorter stretch than Fort Erie, and a longer stretch favors closers. I believe some horses prefer Fort Erie because, up until last year, it was thought to be a very kind surface - deeper than Woodbine's. Horses didn't run down very often. Horses didn't break down very often."

Giliforte, who finished second in the trainer standings at the recently concluded Tampa Bay Downs meeting, believes in the theory that horses going from Woodbine to Fort Erie generally need a race over the Fort Erie strip.

"For whatever reason, you see a very high percentage of horses from Woodbine get beat the first time they run over this track," Giliforte said. "It doesn't matter whether it's a horse dropping in class or a horse running in an allowance race."

Giliforte said Woodbine handicappers shouldn't regard runners from Fort Erie lightly when they compete at Woodbine.

"I don't think they should disrespect them," Giliforte said. "If their form warrants it, they should give Fort Erie horses equal consideration. I think what happens a lot is that Fort Erie horses will fit in at Woodbine, but they won't get bet because they have an 'FE' beside their name instead of a 'WO.' As soon as people see Fort Erie, they tend to overlook them, but they can be good value."

Ted Labanowich, who covers Fort Erie racing for the Hamilton Spectator and Daily Racing Form, said an outside bias that aids closers coming down the center of the track sometimes surfaces for a long time at Fort Erie.

"If they don't water the track enough, the outside bias stays for a long period of time," Labanowich said. "When this happens, the outside gets harder than the inside, and front-runners on the inside [get bogged down], and you'll see closers winning after coming eight or nine wide down the stretch."

* The rail was dead opening weekend at Woodbine (April 17-18), a bias that was quite pronounced by the time the Whimsical Stakes was run near the end of the April 18 card. Joe Bravo rode speedy Florida invader Holy Bubbette in the six-furlong Whimsical, and kept her well off the rail on the backstretch after breaking her from the 1-hole. Holy Bubbette ran in the two path on the turn, before cruising home on top in the three path.

* Speed horses dominated the proceedings early last week at Woodbine. Front-runners won all seven races May 5, while the only closer to win on May 6 was in the lone route on the card.