10/20/2004 11:00PM

Short rest may just mean horse is ready

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - I used to see vulnerability when handicapping a horse running on short rest. Now I see opportunity.

While fresh horses can produce peak efforts off the bench when in the hands of sharp trainers, there is relatively little value in that angle. The public has come to expect top performances from runners prepared in this fashion, particularly when dealing with turf horses.

What the public hasn't come to expect, though, is horses winning stakes on less than a week's rest. That happened twice in graded stakes this past week. Cool Conductor won the Hawthorne Derby on six days' rest, and Molto Vita took the Thoroughbred Club of America at Keeneland after a break of less than a week.

The trend may continue Saturday, when Lenatareese races in the Grade 3 Valley View at Keeneland on less than two weeks' rest.

To be clear, the short time away is in itself not an advantage. But the fact that Lenatareese's successful trainer, David Carroll, has entered her on short rest is a highly positive sign.

After Lenatareese finished last of eight in the Grade 3 Pebbles at Belmont on Oct. 11, the conservative move would have been to put her away and wait for an allowance at Churchill Downs this fall. Instead, Carroll has opted to enter her in another graded stakes race, even following a lengthy ship from New York to Kentucky.

By entering her, Carroll is suggesting to horseplayers that Lenatareese bounced out of the Pebbles in great shape - just as trainer Dallas Stewart hinted when he ran Molto Vita last week.

Three other factors point to a strong race: She makes her second start following a layoff, returns to a distance at which she has already won a stakes race, and catches a field with an abundance of pace.

Lenatareese had no such luxury in the 1 1/8-mile Pebbles. Breaking two lengths behind the field at the start, she was restrained at the back of the pack as the leaders walked the first quarter in 25.72 seconds and the half-mile in 50.51. Behind such slow fractions, she was unable to mount a significant rally.

With Beau Watch and Jinny's Gold providing speed in the Valley View, Lenatareese should get realistic fractions to set up a rally under jockey Larry Melancon.

A good sign for Tempting Choice

Just as an entry on short rest can point to a top performance, there are other moves a trainer can make that tip his hand.

Consider claiming horses, for example. Although claiming rules vary from state to state, in general, claimed horses must be moved up in claiming price for a period of 30 days following a claim. The alternative is to wait out this "jail" period and race them for any price.

So when a horse sits out the jail period and still rises in class, it is often an encouraging sign. That is the move Tempting Choice makes for trainer Dale Romans in the second race at Keeneland.

Claimed by Ken and Sarah Ramsey at Saratoga for $22,500 on Sept. 2, Tempting Choice now returns at the $25,000 level - a small but important rise from connections that are known to drop some of their recent claims in class after a jail period if something does not meet their satisfaction.

Tempting Choice is my key in the second half of the opening daily double.

Top riders matter little to Jones

The choice of a jockey can also be significant with some trainers and irrelevant with others.

Larry Jones is one winning trainer who seemingly puts very little stock in landing a big-name rider. Terry Thompson is regularly his go-to jockey, but with Thompson sidelined with a broken leg, Jones has given most of his mounts this summer and fall to Justin Shepherd. This summer at Ellis Park, little-used veterans Roger Cox and Cowboy Jones also won races for the trainer.

Jones, who has three horses entered Saturday at Keeneland, has Shepherd named on Sherrylane in the first, Calvin Borel on Kai Kai in the fourth, and Mark Guidry on Missy's Thunder in the last.

All are threats, but Kai Kai is the best potential overlay. With Borel struggling on the meet - he was winless heading into Thursday's card - some bettors may overlook Kai Kai in favor of other horses being ridden by hotter jockeys.

Let them focus on others. I've seen enough rail-skimming rides by Borel to appreciate what a skilled jockey he is. And based on Jones's history, I anticipate a top effort, regardless of who is riding the horse.