02/03/2005 12:00AM

Right angles give Big A appeal


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - If you're still trying to make heads or tails of what was going on last Saturday in the Sunshine Millions, where the average mutuel was $45.20 at Santa Anita and $44 at Gulfstream Park, join the club.

Big events like Sunshine Millions, the Breeders' Cup, and the Triple Crown attract extensive media coverage, but that doesn't make the handicapping any easier. Making a case for the likes of Birdstone in the Belmont, or Wilko and Better Talk Now in the Breeders' Cup, or Musique Toujours in last week's Sunshine Millions Classic required a good deal of skill, imagination, and luck, and not necessarily in that order.

For most horseplayers, realistically, their main source of winning plays is likely to involve the bread-and-butter races that make up the majority of racing programs. Having the winner of a $5,000 restricted claimer at Penn National isn't as glamorous as nailing the Kentucky Derby as far as bragging rights are concerned, but the money is just as green.

To be sure, the color and pageantry of Thoroughbred racing is in hibernation during Aqueduct's winter meet. But the handicapping is pretty straightforward for the most part, and bettors who can isolate a handful of productive angles may consider The Big A to be just as beautiful as Hialeah in its heyday.

One angle performing extraordinarily well on Aqueduct's inner track concerns the route races for older fillies and mares, which currently are being dominated by sprinters stretching out.

With its tight turns and short run to the first turn, the inner track has historically been a great place for sprinters to stretch out. When they do so in a particularly weak division they can be very hard to stop, and that has been exactly the case in the filly-and-mare claiming routes since the start of the year.

The seven winners in this category from Jan. 1 through Feb. 2 as follows:

DateWinner (paid)

Feb. 2April Eye ($5.80)

Feb. 2Surrey Down ($8.90)

Jan. 21Prize Rose ($5.90)

Jan. 20Kristy Dale ($5.90)

Jan. 14Kristy Dale ($10.60)

Jan. 14Excellent Charisma ($14.60)

Jan. 2Pitchacurve ($39.60)

Kristy Dale, a hard-knocking router on the Delaware and New Jersey circuits last year, found the local competition to her liking and wired two of these routes in the span of a week for trainer Jason Servis.

Each of the other five winners was stretching out from a six-furlong sprint. A brief summary:

April Eyes - Claimed at the Meadowlands last November for $20,000 by Servis, she returned from a freshening to win a sprint on the inner track for the same price. She was stretched out a month later to win a $25,000 two-turn mile by over five lengths.

Surrey Down - Beaten 27 lengths in two allowance sprinters on the inner track at the turn of the year. Dropped into a restricted claimer at a mile and 70 yards and edged Perfect Colony, a shipper from Philadelphia Park. (The trifecta was completed by White Dragon, whose last six starts had been at six furlongs.)

Prize Rose - Sixth and third in two sprints on the inner track, won her first two-turn assignment by over two lengths against $25,000 rivals.

Excellent Charisma - Fourth in two statebred allowance sprints here in December, she dropped into a restricted claimer at 1 1/16 miles and edged Kiss the Lips, who was also stretching out. This was an exceedingly generous mutuel considering the double-barreled power of a class drop and a stretchout.

Pitchacurve - Off the board and beaten a combined 43 lengths in her last four starts, all sprints, she stretched out to 1 1/16 miles and rallied from next to last in a $20,000 field to light up the toteboard.

Give any sprinter a long look when they stretch out in the filly-mare routes on the inner track.

By the same logic, consider any shippers, especially when they are in filly-mare routes that do not contain any stretchout possibilities. Thus far, the most productive ship-in tracks at the winter meet have been

The Meadowlands (10 wins), Woodbine (6), and Philadelphia Park (5). Eight of the 10 winners with a last-race line at The Meadowlands returned double-digit mutuels. Three of the Woodbine winners were saddled by Gary Contessa. Scott Lake sent out two of the Philly Park winners.