08/10/2003 11:00PM

Strange doings at Saratoga


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - There comes a point in the midst of every Saratoga meeting when some planetary misalignment or conspiracy of mischievous racing deities creates a sort of Adirondack Triangle. Reason is swallowed by madness as the racing becomes almost random. Favorites disappear into the vortex, closely followed by the bankrolls of players who believe past performance predicts future results.

This year it began on Sword Dancer Saturday, in the midst of a sweltering afternoon where everyone was braced for storms that never came. Perhaps the tipoff that the game was about to take a turn for the strange came when a Suffolk Downs shipper named Tullynally took the fifth, a rare Suffolk-to-Saratoga success story in recent years.

That seemed to unleash the dogs of disarray, as Tullynally's victory was followed by a seemingly endless parade of improbable winners: Queen Isabel ($32.40), Burchfield ($22), Newfoundland ($18), Whitmore's Conn ($51.50), and Doc's Doll ($10.80). The pick four of that latter quartet paid $36,369, and, needless to say, nobody picked six or even five in the pick-six pool.

Whitmore's Conn's victory came in the Sword Dancer, the weekend's only Grade 1 race across the country, and there may have been a perverse logic to the outcome. Everyone understandably thought the key races to rehandicap were last month's United Nations, which yielded Denon, Lunar Sovereign, and Balto Star, or maybe the Stars and Stripes, from which Ball-ingarry and Dr. Brendler emerged. Those five were the favorites, and the best any could do was Denon's tiring fourth. It turned out the right prep was the apparently slower and less loaded Bowling Green, whose first, second, and fourth finishers - Whitmore's Conn, Macaw, and Slew Valley - returned to run one-two-three.

Few bettors apparently held the Bowling Green in terribly high esteem: The Sword Dancer trifecta paid $13,969. Perhaps the $511 exacta was popular among Big Apple boosters who simply played the field's lone New York-bred over a runner-up trained by Barclay Tagg, of Funny Cide renown.

Saturday's strange doings, it turns out, were only a hint of what was in store for Sunday. A volume of rain rarely seen since Noah's time hit the track so hard after the second race that he third race was delayed, delayed some more, and finally canceled altogether. The 1 hour and 55 minute delay between races 2 and 4 was probably the longest gap between live races in Sara-toga's storied history.

When the game resumed, anyone who had killed the two idle hours getting in some extra study on the pick six soon learned he had been wasting his time. On a day when the horses should have been wearing wading boots, horseplayers should have been using a dartboard. Any tickets that didn't die immediately when the implausible Lord Burleigh won the fifth at $18.20 were likely deceased after the utterly inexplicable He's Bluffing took the sixth at $36.40.

Any remaining live tickets or hopes for sanity were drowned in the featured Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap. Shake You Down was a legitimate 1-2 shot but couldn't even save the bridge-jumping show bettors, beating just one horse after Mike's Classic ran him into defeat and 10-1 Private Horde came swooping late to pick up the pieces.

That created a $435,380 carryover into Monday's card, which might sound like just another day at the parimutuel beach to Californians but is pretty exciting stuff in New York. More than a few city dwellers called in sick Monday morning to stretch their upstate weekend another day and maybe make a score that would allow them never to go back to the office again.

Alas, the weekend fever had broken and it was back to the usual 2003 Saratoga results, which means more chalk than the New York City school system. The winners paid $4.50, $4.60, $9.20, $6.80, $4.70, and $6.20. The pie was almost $2 million, but each winning slice was worth just $1,247, less than a lot of brilliant handicappers put in but a nice return for those who played for $32 or $64.

The $4.70 winner was Whoopi Cat, who ran down Unbridled Beauty late to win the $150,000 Adirondack for 2-year-old fillies in her second career start. The winner's time of 1:17.51 for 6 1/2 furlongs was pedestrian compared with the dazzling 1:03.82 for 5 1/2 furlongs recorded earlier in the day by another 2-year-old filly second-timer, Everyday Angel, who won a maiden race by 12 1/2 lengths. They both may be seen next in the Spinaway on closing weekend along with Schuylerville winner Ashado. One of them looks like the Spinaway winner, unless the Adirondack Triangle returns.