12/13/2001 1:00AM

Toss the two favorites in Gravesend


JAMAICA, N.Y. - Trying to make sense of form cycles has entertained and perplexed horseplayers down through the ages, and Saturday's Gravesend Handicap at Aqueduct is another fascinating exercise in that regard.

There are five betting interests in the six-furlong sprint, and strictly in terms of last-out Beyer Speed Figures it looks like anybody's race because the "spread" is a mere five points, from a high of 105 down to a low of 100.

Such a narrow range is usually a tipoff to a wide-open affair, which the Gravesend definitely is. The interesting thing though, is how these horses got to their most recent figures - especially when it comes to co-highweights Say Florida Sandy and Peeping Tom.

In each case the Beyers tell a tale of declining form:

Say Florida Sandy (who has won the Gravesend twice) ran a sequence of 111-110-111-110-111 figures from mid-April to the end of July, which is simply amazing stuff for a 7-year-old horse. Sooner or later those efforts had to take a toll, and indeed they have. In five subsequent starts his figures have dipped below 100 three times, including back-to-back losses at odds-on.

Peeping Tom was claimed by Patrick Reynolds for a mere $40,000 back in March of 2000, and since then this rags-to-riches gelding has earned almost 20 times that amount. The highlight came on closing day of Aqueduct's 2001 spring meet when he outfinished Say Florida Sandy to win the Grade 1 Carter Handicap, and received a figure of 113. A race later, Peeping Tom led in midstretch and finished a close second in the prestigious Met Mile on a tiring muddy track, earning a 107.

Peeping Tom fell off badly in the Tom Fool Handicap next time out, finishing last as the favorite. He has been out of the money in three starts since returning from a layoff this fall, with his current level having settled in the low 100's. He drops out of the Breeders' Cup Sprint and the Cigar Mile, but it's highly questionable whether he can bounce back to peak form at a distance shorter than his best.

Given their declining form, high weight packages, and the fact that they are well known to the betting public and likely to be overbet, there should be some kind of value attached to forsaking Say Florida Sandy and Peeping Tom in favor of Here's Zealous and/or Sassy Hound.

Here's Zealous is a rateable speed horse who appears ideally drawn outside of probable pacesetters Snow Ridge, and Run Kush Run (who looks to be a rabbit for his entrymate Say Florida Sandy).

Here's Zealous was beaten in the Tom Fool and True North handicaps by Say Florida Sandy when Say Florida Sandy was at the peak of his powers. But Here's Zealous contended strongly in both of those races, and then he got the rest of the summer off. His second start back from the layoff was a six-point improvement to a 105, and he has since turned in the two best workouts showing on his tab. It seems reasonable to expect another forward move back to his top of 107, or perhaps something even better.

Sassy Hound, meanwhile, is a success story along the lines of Peeping Tom, only with a lot less publicity. He was running in $12,500 maiden claimers at Laurel in December of 1999, and he was claimed for $14,500 out of his first start in 2000. Since then has won 10 of 17 starts, including a classified allowance at Saratoga this past August, and the $100,000 Wilmington Handicap at Delaware Park.

Sassy Hound has raced once in the slop, when he earned his lifetime top Beyer of 108. He could get similar conditions in the Gravesend, because the weather forecast for Friday called for steady rain.