09/29/2004 12:00AM

Summer vacations pay off this time of year


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Handicappers who play Woodbine have to adapt to a variety of circumstances as the eight-month meeting progresses, and going from one stage of the meeting to the next can be a difficult transition.

A barrage of United States shippers successfully flaunted their fitness edge in the spring. The local runners who were idle during the winter eventually caught up, but now many of them have begun to grow weary from the racing grind, and horses who got a portion of the summer off have recently begun to make some noise.

Several fresh horses won during the week that ended last Sunday. Two 5-2 winners on Thursday, Bold Starlet and El General, were both making their second start off a layoff of just over two months.

On Friday, Bust the Must ($6.10) prevailed by four lengths in her third start off a two-month break. It was her initial outing for trainer Red Johnson, who put her on Lasix.

Saturday's card saw two Stronach Stable runners click in their second start off a vacation, Rolling Benz ($10.70) and Lake Skimmer ($3.50), who was plummeting from $40,000 to $10,000.

Real Dreamy won the seventh race on the program following a two-month break. Longshot Flashy Thunder ran the race of her life in her second race off the shelf in Saturday's Flaming Page Stakes, finishing a close third in that 1 1/2-mile turf race.

Visual aids help handicapping

Perusing the horses in the paddock who have been running on a regular basis can give you a good indication of their current status. Runners whose ribs are showing usually aren't carrying as much weight as they should and may be over the top. Horses with a dull coat and who seem lethargic in their prerace routine are also probably past their peak.

A trip to the paddock can also be the key to determining which way horses are headed in their form cycle.

A filly who looked to be going south on paper was Inspired Magic, the 2-1 favorite in Sunday's fourth race, a $25,000 claimer for 3-year-olds. Inspired Magic beat $25,000 opposition on Aug. 28, but could manage only a fifth-place finish 11 days later, when she dropped off the win to $20,000.

Inspired Magic came bouncing into the paddock for Sunday's race and was carrying ample weight for a filly who had run eight times at the meeting. After leading most of the way, she won comfortably.

Of course, it would be a much easier game if all horses ran to their looks, but they obviously don't. And while a positive prerace appearance is certainly a plus, it's not a prerequisite for a strong showing.

The consistent Kendi Lou has always been a nervous type, usually on the lean side. She had hit the board in 10 straight races going into a $25,000 claimer on Sept. 15, but she looked quite ragged in the paddock that day. Nevertheless, she brought her "A" game, finishing second after a pace-pressing trip along the rail.

Cheap speed crashes and burns

Since the premature end of the Fort Erie meet because of track renovations on Sept. 6, the lower ranks at Woodbine have changed dramatically. The bottom claiming level was recently dropped from $12,500 to $8,000, and now many cheap races with large fields are being carded, some of which have yielded bizarre results.

Fort Erie shippers with speed who are coming off a big effort in conditioned company must be viewed with some skepticism when they move up in class on a different track. Such runners usually encounter a more taxing pace scenario than they are accustomed to and will crack from the pressure.

Malibu Man was a prime example in the seventh race here Sept. 22, a $20,000 claimer for nonwinners of two. A need-the-lead type, Malibu Man shook loose on front end en route to a 10-length tally over $20,000 maidens at Fort Erie in his previous outing, earning a large Beyer Speed Figure of 83 in the process. On Sept. 22, however, he was outrun for the early lead and then made a big middle move before fading to sixth as the even-money favorite.