11/16/2001 12:00AM

Some patterns hold at tracks all over


LEXINGTON, Ky. - As the Kentucky handicapper for Daily Racing Form, I'm not limited to handicapping races at Churchill Downs, Ellis Park, Keeneland, Kentucky Downs, and Turfway. Over the course of a normal year, I also make selections for races at Beulah, Blue Ribbon, Canterbury, Delta Downs, Evangeline, Fair Grounds, Fairmount, Fonner, Great Lakes, Hawthorne, Hoosier, Lincoln, Lone Star, Louisiana Downs, Oaklawn, Prairie Meadows, Remington, Retama, River Downs, Sam Houston, Sportsman's, Thistledown, and The Woodlands.

After examining past performances from as many as 40 or 50 races a day, from nearly 30 tracks per year, for almost eight years, I've noticed certain patterns of data that immediately grab my attention and lead me to believe that a favorite is likely to be vulnerable.

A couple of examples came up recently at Churchill that illustrate two solid patterns of favorites, or contenders, that I like to try to beat.

The first pattern: A horse showing consistently good form suddenly runs a bad race, heads to the sidelines for a couple of months or longer, then drops in for a claiming price for the first time in his career, or at least for the first time showing in the running lines on his page. It should make perfect sense that you would want to play against a favorite like this, but most are hard-pressed to resist the urge to bet on the classy, consistent favorite dropping in class.

Triple Threat fit this pattern at Churchill on Tuesday, Nov. 6. She had finished in the money in each of her first eight starts, then ran an uncharacteristically poor race when she finished sixth of eight, beaten by 10 1/2 lengths at Arlington on Sept. 8. She took nearly two months off, and was made the

5-2 favorite on the drop in class into a $40,000 claiming sprint.

Before her dull performance, Triple Threat had won two of her last three races, and had earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 83 beating classier opponents on Aug. 24. So why was she being offered for a claiming price for the first time in her career?

That's not to say you should empty your wallet whenever you see an example like this. Some of these runners win, or finish in the money. But experience has shown that they disappoint much more often than bettors expect. Triple Threat tired badly to finish 10th

of 11.

When you throw out a contender at low odds, you give yourself a realistic chance to score on a longshot. I was fortunate to capitalize by tabbing the winner of this race at an overlaid $21.40. I would never have cashed that win bet if I hadn't noticed the negative pattern on Triple Threat.

The second pattern: A horse makes an eye-catching late charge from far back and wins, or finishes in the money. He returns in a race that is at least slightly longer than the one in which he finished so strongly. The combination of the furious last-race finish and the added distance is very compelling to most bettors.

But if the pace of the race was too fast during the early part of the race, there is an excellent chance that the speed collapsed late, and the bold closing charge was mostly an illusion. Your best chance of beating this type is when they won last time, and are stepping up in class to face runners with more late punch.

Santa Rosa Island was a good example of this pattern at Churchill on Nov. 7. She had rallied from 14 lengths off the pace to win her debut at Keeneland by a neck. Her Beyer Figure of 77 from that win equaled the best last-race figure of any opponent in this step up in class to battle allowance company. Based on that performance, and with the presence of Pat Day, she was made the 3-5 favorite.

Santa Rosa Island's flaw was that her field ran too fast early, with 22- and 44.80-second fractions, then crawled home in a very slow 14 seconds during the last furlong of that seven-furlong maiden race. The fact that the leaders caved in down the stretch enabled Santa Rosa Island to make her visually impressive late charge. Pace-oriented handicappers understood that Santa Rosa Island had enjoyed a great pace scenario in that race, and would have to work much harder to step up and defeat allowance runners under less-favorable circumstances. This time Santa Rosa Island was fortunate to get up in time to win the photo for third, while losing the race by five lengths.

I've seen these patterns be effective at some of the classiest, and at some of the cheapest, tracks in the country. At smaller tracks, the first pattern might consist of a horse dropping out of a series of starter allowance races in an open claiming race at the same price, or lower. Since most races at smaller tracks are claiming races, it is also within the spirit of this angle to play against a horse who has consistently run well for higher claiming prices who is dropping dramatically into a much cheaper race.

The second pattern is also applicable to both large and small tracks, but some local handicapping experience is helpful to gauge exactly how fast slow horses must run to meet the requirement of having set unusually fast fractions. There are times when six furlongs in 1:15 can be considered to be blinding speed in a route race at some of the smaller tracks.