12/20/2003 1:00AM

Trainers and riders who bear watching

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OLDSMAR, Fla. - Information is the lifeblood of the wagering public. Spotting the hot stable or live new rider before the public catches on is what every bettor dreams about.

While there have been only three racing programs completed at the new meeting at Tampa Bay Downs, some early trends are emerging. Stables have converged here from all over North America, and the tracks these horses last raced at finished their meetings at different times; thus, the conditioning of the horses from different areas can be difficult to gauge.

Here are some early observations.

Stables to watch

Horses coming in from the Kentucky circuit of Churchill Downs, Keeneland, Kentucky Downs, and Turfway Park made a strong showing on opening weekend. Runners from the Joe Woodard and Charles Simon barns were competitive in most of their races and finished close even when they didn't win.

That said, it should be noted that many of those entries were dropping in class, some sharply, and many were heavy betting favorites. There are few states in the country where the claiming business is more competitive than Kentucky or where the horses run harder throughout the year. If you like runners from Kentucky, it would be advisable to watch those runners warm up, see how they act jogging and galloping before the race, and then choose accordingly. Using Kentucky horses in exotics and being careful about taking short prices in win betting is the way to go.

Horses from the Mid-Atlantic region, including Delaware Park and Maryland, have also looked sharp, especially those from the barns of Earl Begley and Mike Zwiesler. Other outfits to watch include those of Tito Moreno, Tony Cataldi, Peter Klesaris, and Javier Contreras.

Horses from the Michigan-based stables of Ronnie Allen and John Reading merit attention. It shouldn't be long before Allen's runners begin hitting the winner's circle - his prize juvenile, Tricks of Glory, did that already, winning the Dec. 13 Inaugural, his first start since September.

Look for the Reading barn to rebound from a poor showing here last season. Reading won at a high percentage at Great Lakes Downs, and better things can be expected this season.

The Walter Durrett runners have also looked good, and Tim Girten's entrants figure to be factors. Both are based in Ohio much of the year.

Of course, we can't forgot the powerhouse stable of Don Rice - it's just that his stable usually takes about a month to get into high gear. The smart play now appears to be using Rice runners in exotics, with emphasis on second- and third-place finishes.

Riders to watch

* Joe Judice, won title last year and has strong Kentucky connections.

* Jesus Castanon, second last year, spent summer at Calder, and has good south Florida connections.

* Terry Houghton, popular with local horseman, strong agent.

* Derek Bell, won Canterbury riding title.

* Juan Umana, strong Delaware connections.

* Oliver Castillo, good connections with Mid-Atlantic horsemen.

* Tom Pompell, rides first call for the Rice stable.

* Russell Woolsey, had best meet ever here last season.