05/22/2003 11:00PM

These imports deserve a break

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NEW YORK -Wild Spirit's victory in the Shuvee Handicap at Belmont last Saturday was surprising in ways that go beyond her $22.40 price and the ease with which the recent Chilean import disposed of four of this country's best fillies and mares.

Not only did Wild Spirit give multiple graded stakes winners Smok'n Frolic, You, and Raging Fever a thrashing, she did so as a 3-year-old giving weight on the scale to older fillies and mares.

Yes, Wild Spirit was listed in the Daily Racing Form past performances and in the Belmont Park program as a 4-year-old, but she is, in fact, a 3-year-old, having been bred and foaled in Chile, a country that lies beneath the equator in the Southern Hemisphere.

In Chile, as in other Southern Hemisphere countries like Argentina, Brazil, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, it is autumn when we in the Northern Hemisphere are experiencing spring. Conversely, when it is spring in Chile, it is autumn in North America and Europe.

Depending on race conditions, Southern Hemisphere horses are foaled either six months before Northern Hemisphere horses, or six months after.

Wild Spirit was foaled in July 1999 and will not turn 4 on the Southern Hemisphere calendar until July 1. She is six months younger than her 4-year-old North American rivals in the Shuvee, but she was weighted as if she were a Northern Hemisphere foal.

The 115 pounds that Wild Spirit carried in the Shuvee made her the co-fourth highweight in a field of six. As a Southern Hemisphere foal, Wild Spirit will be 3 until July 1. In all fairness, she was entitled to a break in the scale of weights before the handicapper got down to the business of assigning weights for the Shuvee.

It is understandable that when Southern Hemisphere horses come north of the equator that they be subject to the rules of racing concerning Thoroughbred birthdays in the Northern Hemisphere, where all horses have their official birthday Jan. 1.

However, that does not change the fact that Wild Spirit is still a 3-year-old. Simply crossing the equator does not age a horse, and that is something that racing secretaries in the United States have not taken into account, unlike their counterparts in the United Arab Emirates.

According to the official North American scale of weights, 3-year-olds going one mile in May are entitled to a 14-pound break from their older rivals. Wild Spirit, six months younger than her 4-year-old Shuvee opponents, was fully deserving of half that break before the job of weighting the race had begun. The fact is she was not made the theoretical Shuvee highweight at 122, two pounds higher than four-time Grade 1 winner You.

In spite of the injustice, Wild Spirit won easily.

Another example concerns the running of the Argentine-bred Southern Hemisphere 3-year-old Seattle Fitz, who was weighted as a Northern Hemisphere 4-year-old in the seventh race at Belmont Wednesday. The conditions stated that 3-year-olds carry 118 pounds, older horses 124 pounds. Seattle Fitz carried 121 pounds, but his allowance came about because he was a non-winner of $21,600 at a mile or over since March 18. He should have received an additional three pounds off, or half of the extra six pounds carried by older horses.

The policy concerning Southern Hemisphere horses at the Emirates Racing Association (ERA), where they have many horses from Australia, Argentina, and South Africa, should be employed in this country. In Dubai, it is a matter not only of giving Southern Hemisphere foals running against older horses in the second half of their 3-year-olds seasons (Wild Spirit) a break, it also means having them carry half the extra weight on the scale when running against Northern Hemisphere 3-year-olds (Seattle Fitz).

The South African-bred 3-year-old Victory Moon won the UAE Derby March 29 carrying nine pounds more than Northern Hemisphere foals Songlark, Inamorato, and Outta Here. Using the European scale of weights, the ERA arrived at the nine extra pounds carried by Victory Moon by halving the allowance of 18 pounds which Northern Hemisphere 3-year-olds receive from Northern Hemisphere 4-year-olds in March.

Britain and France also employ these rules, but they come into play much less frequently, as there are few Southern Hemisphere horses running in those countries.

That is not the case in the U.S., where we have dozens of horses from South America, Australia, and New Zealand in training. During the second half of their 3-year-old seasons, they are all entitled to a "half-break" in the weights.