01/10/2003 12:00AM

Track bias reversal horses to watch

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Back in the good old days, Turfway Park could be counted on to be a speed-favoring track most of the time. But this meet the Turfway track has been a mixed bag, and there have been streaks during which early speed was a distinct disadvantage. Most horses-to-watch lists generated by handicappers who follow these trends assume that a return to the normal prevailing bias is inevitable, but what happens when the bias tends to be unreliable?

My suggestion is that handicappers should try to embrace both of the likely scenarios. First, take a long look at race cards that favored early speed more than usual. Then identify and examine the cards that produced the most winners from the rear half of the pack. Rather than assuming that either trend is an exception, keep both lists handy and then bet the horses who fit the prevailing trend when they run back.

A check of the last 50 races run at Turfway through Thursday shows that early speed has been less effective recently than it usually is at most tracks on the Kentucky circuit. Only 24 of the 50 races were won by horses located in the front half of the field at the first call. And only six front-runners won.

Subtract the results of Jan. 4 - a speed-favoring day - and the numbers are even more significant. Nine of the 12 races that day (75 percent) were won by horses in the front half of the field early, and three races were won on the lead (25 percent). After those races are removed from the sample, only 15 of the 38 remaining races (39 percent) were won from the front half of the field, an uncommonly low success rate for most dirt tracks, and only three of those races (8 percent) were won by front-runners.

Here are the closers who appealed to me while running well against the speed bias on Jan. 4:

Delbert had shown signs of life with his first in-the-money finish when he finished second in a $4,000 maiden claiming race at Beulah on Dec. 7, but appeared to be in tough as a 10-1 outsider on the jump up into a $7,500 field in the second race. Although he was not able to catch Mac's Last Bucko, a $148 longshot who was assisted by the bias when he led throughout, Delbert still ran a nice race when he rallied from fifth in that field of eight and was beaten by 1 3/4 lengths. The horses who were 1-3-2-4 at the first call benefited from the way the track was playing when they finished 1-3-4-5. If off-the-pace runners are more effective in Delbert's return, he can beat a similar field at a square price.

Bee Line Genius overcame traffic trouble to beat $15,000 N3L claimers at Turfway on Dec. 12, in her return from a 2 1/2-month vacation. She was the only deep closer to make an impact in the third race Jan. 4, when she rallied from last of seven to finish third on the step up into an open $17,500 race. Contenders who were 3-4-2-1 at the first call surrounded her at the finish when they finished 1-2-4-5.

Although it is tempting to recommend Loaded Springs, the $29.40 upset winner who rallied from seventh in the fourth race, the much slower-than-par come-home time in that race, and the fact that closers rallied to finish 1-2-3 when the speed collapsed, give her the look of a red herring.

Mystics Blue Rose looked like the real deal in the seventh race when she overcame the bias for her second straight triumph. She bid five wide from last in a field of six to score by two lengths. The fillies and mares who were 1-2-3 at the first call finished 2-3-4 behind her.

Inis and Broad Creek rallied from far back to finish in a photo for second and third behind 7 3/4-length winner Shipping Dixie in the 10th, but the winner finished up much slower than par while under a drive (including a slow 7.16 seconds for the last half-furlong), so I'll pass.

P. J. Brown finished fourth in a sprint prep in his return from a freshening on Dec. 26. He rallied from seventh in a field of eight to finish second as he stretched out to a route distance Jan. 4, and should be set to beat $5,000 N2L's - if closers are more effective in his next start.

If early speed rebounds and becomes more effective, you will want to take a look at the front-runners who did best on Friday, Jan. 3, a night when closers had the advantage. There were no front-running winners on that card, and only three of the 10 races were won by horses located in the front half of the field at the first call.

Hesabullet set the pace until deep stretch in the fifth race, and finished second, beaten a length by a longshot closer who came from seventh. Hesabullet is lightly raced and improving, and can beat $10,000 maiden claimers if the track is kinder to his running style.

Petite Diablo set the pace until midstretch of the ninth race and held on to finish second, beaten by 2 1/4 lengths. She needed this race in her return from a 2 1/2-month layoff, and will be formidable against allowance N2X rivals if she catches a fairer track in the second race of her form cycle.