03/20/2008 12:00AM

Rite Moment may be right one if pace collapses


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Some points to ponder in three Grade 2 stakes Saturday.

Distaff Handicap at Aqueduct

The six fillies and mares come off races at five different distances, ranging from Quality Affair's five furlongs to Rite Moment's mile and 70 yards. There is some depth here: Rite Moment, Beau Dare, and Control System have a combined 8-1-0 record from nine starts on the inner dirt.

Control System, the lone graded winner, has three things going for her after running second at 11-10 in the Barbara Fritchie - better distance, better track, and better pace setup. After watching her win repeatedly at six furlongs by stalking, it was surprising to see her so far off the Fritchie pace at seven furlongs, and her difficulties were compounded by a wide trip while the winner shot through on the rail.

Control System, who has averaged a 97 Beyer Speed Figure on the inner track and 85 elsewhere, should have a better stretch punch on the cutback, especially in light of an anticipated quick pace.

Your Flame in Me has never been headed after the first quarter of any race, which doesn't bode well for Beau Dare, who caught a strong speed bias Dec. 26 and a speed-favoring track in the Correction as well. The outside draw hurts Quality Affair - unless, that is, she reprises half-mile splits of 43.80 seconds from her last two starts.

If a meltdown occurs, Rite Moment figures to capitalize. The main questions are whether she: 1. avoids a regression running back in 16 days off a new Beyer top going long, and 2.obreaks cleanly, something she hasn't done in three of her last five starts.

Shirley Jones at Gulfstream Park

How often do you see a weight concession of 6 to 9 pounds in a handicap nowadays? That's how good Sugar Swirl looks on paper off back-to-back Grade 3 romps earlier at the meet - though devil's advocates might play against her in the hopes that she bounces off paired Beyer tops, reasoning that, statistically, mares bounce more often than males and sprinters more than routers.

Even so, Sugar Swirl relishes seven furlongs and seems ideally drawn for a stalking trip outside Featherbed and Shaggy Mane.

I'm going to try and get Shaggy Mane to hang on for second against the favorite in the exacta. She's been a six-furlong type all her life, but is running first-time for trainer Richard Dutrow Jr., whose rabbit in last week's Skip Away, Mr. Umphrey, held on for second at 40-1. Then again, his stablemate Frost Giant trudged home fourth at 6-5.

When Shaggy Mane scored an upset in the Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Sprint last winter, she became a textbook case, literally, of the potency of early speed. Her past performances appear as an example in my chapter in "Bet With the Best 2: Longshots" with the following advice: "When speedballs like Shaggy Mane come off subpar performances in unfavorable circumstances but things look more favorable today, the result is often a return to top form."

Some form patterns currently exhibited by Shaggy Mane are similar to what triggered her explosive performance last year: a layoff, a switch from a synthetic surface in California to conventional dirt at Gulfstream. Even a six-furlong workout in 1:13.80 on Monday closely resembles a 1:13 work seven days out from last year's 8-1 wire job.

Lane's End at Turfway Park

Most handicappers would ordinarily be interested in a horse like Duke of de Buqe (whose half-brother Balto Star won this race with a 112 Beyer when it was called the Spiral in 2001), because a horse with early speed from the rail at 1 1/8 miles is ordinarily worth a long look.

But Turfway's Polytrack is often more favorable to horses racing far from the rail. The rail was Death Valley on many days this winter. At this writing, the best post in sprints percentage-wise has been the 11-hole at 8 for 36; in routes, horses from post 1 have the same success rate (11opercent) as horses from post 8, and runners from post 11 are close behind (10 percent).

In addition to some local 3-year-olds, there are shippers with last-race lines at Aqueduct, Fair Grounds, Gulfstream (turf and dirt), Oaklawn Park, Delta Downs, and Santa Anita's Cushion Track-Pro Ride hybrid, and this has the potential to be a real cavalry charge.

At 6-1 or better, I'll play Adriano to rebound from a tough trip in the Fountain of Youth, and re-establish the form he displayed winning his season debut on turf for trainer Graham Motion, who has a $4.07 ROI on synthetic surfaces.