02/23/2007 12:00AM

Try making bad weather a good thing

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - What happens when low temperatures aided by wind chill and snowy conditions cause trainers to lose training days with their horses on a racing circuit? Are there ways for handicappers to benefit from this situation on the racing days that follow?

When a horse's training schedule is interrupted to the extent that he misses a workout or two, and his connections roll the dice and run him anyway, he might be expected to regress a bit. If he is shipped to another racing circuit to compete against fitter rivals, he is obviously a horse to bet against. But if most of the opponents he is competing against locally have also had their schedules disrupted, does that negate the logic of this handicapping angle, or does it add enough chaos to the outcome of the race to make favorites a bad bet?

Following the recent spell of bad weather in Kentucky, I checked the results of the last five racing days at Turfway from Feb. 17 through Thursday.

There were a lot of scratches in some of those races, and many of the other races attracted small fields, which made life easier for the favorites. There were fewer rivals for the front-runners to duel with, and fewer opponents for the off-the-pace runners and deep closers to have to circle when they attempted to rally.

Partly because of the small fields, the favorites won 32 percent of the 50 races I studied. But they were not close to being profitable. The average win payoff was only $4.93, leading to a modest $1.58 return on investment. That is a bigger loss than the takeout, but it isn't a huge deficit.

Perhaps a better way to use this handicapping angle is to take a closer look at the individual form cycles of the contenders in the race you are handicapping. As a matter of policy, contenders who show a race during the last two weeks should be expected to be fit enough from that race to be able to reproduce their form next time out, or to come close enough to doing so to give them an advantage over many of their rivals.

Contenders who have been on the sidelines for a few months have been building to their return gradually, and probably have a good foundation, so a missed work late in the game doesn't hurt their conditioning as much as it would hinder other horses.

The horses who are probably hindered the most under this scenario are the one who fall in between these two groups, particularly the ones who have been on the sidelines for four, five, or six weeks. They need to be trained at specific times to run a good race, and one or two key missed works can make a significant difference.

Derby Future Wager strategy

One of the interesting angles involved in betting on the first pool of the Churchill Kentucky Derby Futures concerns taking advantage of betting opportunities on horses that you believe are very likely to win their next start.

Following the conclusion of Pool 1, Any Given Saturday was pounded down to 1-5 odds vs. a soft group in the Sam Davis at Tampa on Saturday, and won comfortably as expected. He closed at 14-1 odds in Pool 1, and is now listed as the third betting choice for the Kentucky Derby at 10-1 by Daily Racing Form's Mike Watchmaker. Handicappers who bet on this horse in Pool 1 in anticipation of his upcoming victory locked in a price that is 40 percent higher than his estimated odds after that win.

Although it is a good strategy to use, you need to pick your spots wisely. Supporters of Hard Spun could have used the same tactics while taking 10-1 odds in Pool 1, based on the idea that he would be heavily favored in the Southwest at Oaklawn, and would then be a lower price in Pool 2.

Hard Spun was the heavy favorite in the Southwest at 1-2, but based on his Beyer Speed Figures he did not stand out in that field by a margin that was significant enough to justify that low price. He rallied into contention, then weakened and finished fourth. Watchmaker has this horse at 30-1 now, which makes the 10-1 you could have gotten in Pool 1 a tremendous underlay.

For the record, my recommendation for Pool 1 was to wager two-thirds of your betting money on the field, which closed at 5-2, with the remainder split equally among Any Given Saturday at 14-1, Liquidity at 33-1, and Adore the Gold at 33-1.