06/11/2002 11:00PM

Shuman-Gill combo tough to figure


COLUMBIA, Md. - Roger E. jumps off the page at you. So does Twilight Prince. And Regal Explosion.

Roger E. was claimed in late March for $25,000. He had run Beyer figures of 44, 64, and 50. After the claim he skyrocketed to Beyers of 68, 97, and 91. Twilight Prince was claimed for $25,000 on March 6 after recording figures of 84 and 82. He immediately jumped up to back-to-back 103's, and most recently outran a five-furlong speed horse to go wire to wire in a two-turn turf race, earning a figure of 99. Regal Explosion was claimed for $12,500 on March 6. After pre-claim Beyers of 76-68-62, he quickly improved to 70 and 88, and then wired a grass allowance field with a figure of 92.

This all happened at Delaware, and it's part of this year's remarkable Michael Gill story. With his huge stable split between trainers John Robb in Maryland and Mark Shuman in Delaware, owner Gill has had a huge impact on mid-Atlantic racing. If you want to play Delaware, for example, you usually have to deal with Shuman-Gill five or six times a day. They have certainly had their share of Roger E.'s and Twilight Princes - and some others who have also improved dramatically, such as Praise Heaven, Wayne's Boy, Yankee Crossing, and Jimmy Cadillac. But, while these eye-catching turnarounds get a lot of attention, they are by no means the whole story. There's another, less shiny side to the Shuman-Gill coin.

* Tipping Lightly. Claimed from Tony Dutrow, where she had a top Beyer of 67. Only after nine starts under Shuman did she finally earn a higher figure, a 70 on June 5.

* Justa Kokand. Claimed from Hamilton Smith for $16,000. Four races later Shuman dropped him to $8,000 and he finished a bad fourth.

* Dorothy's Wager. Claimed for $25,000 from Graham Motion. In seven races for Shuman-Gill she still has not earned as high a Beyer as she did with Motion.

* Marcies Choice Ice. Claimed for $25,000 from Hamilton Smith. In his eight subsequent races he has failed to get as high a Beyer as he had under Smith. Much the same could be said of similar claims Honeymoon Harbor, Time for Minor, Reporter, and Grand Valley.

* Vines of Justice. She ran an 85 Beyer in November 2001 for her previous trainer, Steve Rowan, and while she has had some success recently with a win and two seconds, she has never run another Beyer as high as 85.

* Devil's Honey. Claimed for $35,000 from Robert Connors with Beyers of 70 and 67. After the claim Shuman stretched her out and she could only manage a 57 and 55.

* Til I Got Here was claimed for $14,000 from Earl Begley. His figures dropped from 80-79 down to 69-38-60. Shuman-Gill recently entered him for $10,000. He finished last.

* Dan's Ky Blue. Claimed from Scott Lake for $5,000 with figures of 68 and 53. Under Shuman he declined to 53 and 30.

Most dramatically, Shuman-Gill stepped in on Jan. 10 and claimed Leave It to Beezer for $25,000 from Scott Lake. A few years ago, Lake had transformed Beezer into a remarkably courageous, multiple stakes-winning machine who regularly turned in Beyer figures in the triple digits. But the old gelding has lost much of that glamour, and Shuman has not been able to improve him at all. On June 9 Beezer tired badly after leading into the stretch of a $12,500 claimer, finishing a very weak third.

Shuman-Gill started out slowly at this year's Delaware meet, winning with only 8 percent of their starters in the first three weeks. But they have had much more success recently, particularly with speed horses, and most especially with sprinters stretching out around two turns. In the past three weeks they have won at a 21 percent pace - good if not spectacular. Their approach can be summarized quite simply: There's strength in numbers. If it can run, they're eligible to claim it. And if they claim it, they're likely to run it early and often. They'll claim anything from $5,000 to $65,000. And they're not afraid to claim from some of the best trainers around: Iwinski, Dutrow, Smith, Lake, Motion, Francis Campitelli, and Jonathan Sheppard. Going into Wednesday, they had started 119 horses at Delaware, while other local stalwarts Tim Ritchey had started 63, Lake 48, and Iwinski 45.

Sometimes it seems like Shuman-Gill are trying to execute a buy-out of the Delaware meeting.

Mid-Atlantic horseplayers are used to dealing with these types - these hot new trainers who suddenly emerge out of obscurity. The Shuman-Gill phenomenon is just the latest travail for local bettors. And it surely won't be the last.