08/02/2007 11:00PM

Sorting out early trends at Saratoga


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - After eight days of fast tracks and firm turf courses through Thursday's racing, there is enough data to make some observations about what's winning at Saratoga so far.

The short answer is a little bit of everything. The bad news for students of form is that winners have at times been difficult to come by; favorites started off the second week at 2 for 19 on Wednesday and Thursday, and dipped under 20 percent overall at 15 for 77. The good news is big fields have produced a steady supply of have-able winners at good prices; being right just once can offset an afternoon's worth of also-rans that seemed like a good idea at the time.

The track profile synopsis:

* Year after year, the song remains the same in the juvenile maiden dashes at 5 1/2 furlongs, where four of five winners led after three furlongs and the other was a head off the lead. The catch is figuring out which of the expensive, fast-working first-time starters will break alertly and contest the pace.

* At six furlongs, it's also a good idea to make sure your selection has tactical speed. From 23 races, 17 winners were less than two lengths from the lead at the pace call (after a half-mile, at the quarter pole); four others were exactly two lengths from the lead. The two deep closers to win were longshots Again and Again ($35.40) opening day, and Blackfoot Trail ($63) on Whitney Day.

* In the long sprints out of the chute at 6 1/2 and seven furlongs, early speed loses its advantage. Four of the five winners were sixth or farther behind at the pace call (after a half-mile, midway on the far turn).

* So far, 1 1/8-mile races are trending toward horses with tactical speed that can also finish. All but one of 11 winners have been one-two-three or within two lengths of the lead at the pace call (after six furlongs, midway on the far turn). The lone exception was Square Dancing ($9.60), a last-to-first winner off a turf-to-dirt switch Thursday.

* Historically, turf to dirt is a productive angle out of the chute and around two turns whenever the Saratoga strip seems tiring in nature.

* The rail post was not the place to be in the first 45 dirt races. The 1-hole was 2 for 34 in sprints; four of the five chute sprint winners broke from post 6 or farther out. In the routes, the two inside posts were winless from 22 combined starts; eight winners came from post 5 or farther out.

* In turf sprints at 5 1/2 furlongs on the Mellon (outer) course, the stalker-presser types are the only ones not winning: Three of the first seven sprints were won by horses on the lead or dueling; the other four winners were deep closers no closer than seventh and five lengths from the lead.

The trend has been similar in the eight routes on the Mellon, where five winners led or were within a half-length of the pace-call lead, and the three others were closers from well back.

* In 16 routes on the inner turf, eight each at one mile and 1 1/16 miles, the winners have come from anywhere and everywhere.

In another post-position oddity, one would think inside posts should be preferred in two-turn turf races, but the reality has been exactly opposite: From 24 turf routes on both courses, the three inside posts started off a combined 3 for 72; no less than 15 winners came from post 6 or farther out.

* So far, this summer's contingent from Churchill Downs has been exceptionally strong in several divisions. Among the 2-year-olds, Subtle Aly ($10.20), who set a Churchill track record first out, started things off winning the Schuylerville on opening day. She was followed by juvenile maiden winners Twisted Tale ($5.40), Georgetown ($9.20), Double or Nothing ($7.20), and Predate ($3.90).

In turf routes, Westmoreland ($12) won the meet opener, followed by Warn ($11.20) and Thorn Song ($31.80) later during the first week. In the Grade 3 Lake George, the Neil Howard-trained Lady Attack was second, beaten a neck at 9-1.

Among 3-year-old dirt runners from Churchill, Howard has a late-blooming prospect in Grasshopper ($14.40), a six-length winner of a second-level allowance route when stretched out to 1 1/8 miles. Howard is considering the Pennsylvania Derby for him. The 3-year-olds Blackfoot Trail ($63) and Pauillac ($16.80) also paid handsomely opening week.