01/18/2002 1:00AM

Turfway's winter payoffs a beautiful thing


LEXINGTON, Ky. - There isn't anything fancy about winter racing at Turfway. You aren't likely to mistake it for Gulfstream or Santa Anita. Handicappers looking for warm weather and a tan are likely to be disappointed. But if you're searching for overlays, you might want to skip those more glamorous venues and try to hit a home run or two by betting on the races in northern Kentucky.

It makes perfect sense. Races featuring a vulnerable favorite provide the best opportunities for catching winners at attractive prices.

Favorites at Gulfstream and Santa Anita can be formidable. Class, consistency, fast works, and impressive breeding can be difficult to overcome. Most favorites you will find at this time of year at Turfway are indistinguishable from those at Gulfstream and Santa Anita, except for their lack of class, consistency, fast works, and impressive breeding. Which group of favorites would you rather bet against?

The nine-race card offered at Turfway on Wednesday, Jan. 16 illustrates some of the differences. There were only two winning favorites that evening. Primer Coat paid $4.20 in the fourth race, and Odelle returned $5.40 in the fifth. That works out to a low $1.07 ROI for chalk bettors.

The 9-5 favorite in the first, a 1 1/16-mile $7,500 maiden claiming race, was Adjudication. Adjudication's career stats before this race read as follows: 4-0-0-0, with earnings of $713. He had been just as ineffective for a $15,000 maiden claiming tag as he had been for $30,000, but bettors still expected him to wake up on the drop to $7,500. His career-best 36 Beyer was lower than the career-best figures of four of his eight rivals, and was equal to the number earned by one other opponent. He had lost all of his starts by double-digit margins, and had never managed to reach contention at any call. Adjudication finished fourth. Longshot Promising Fellow won, and returned $27.60, a very generous payoff for a mount ridden by Kris Prather.

The entry of Outa Space and Benny the Hawk was hammered down to 4-5 in the second, a one-mile maiden special race. To be fair, Outa Space looked about as good as Gaylor and Southern States. But the entry was overbet at 4-5, while the other two contenders were overlooked at 6-1 and 8-1. Prather rode Outa Space, and bettors who missed out on her last winner weren't about to let her beat them twice in a row. A couple of horses who had closed fast to finish third in $30,000 maiden claiming races, with help from slow come-home times, were also overbet. The other half of the Phil Marino entry was Benny the Hawk, a first-time starter. Marino wins his share of races on this circuit, and is dangerous at high odds, but his stats on the dirt (8 percent winners from 131 starters for a $0.96 ROI), and his numbers with debuting runners (0 for his last 15) didn't suggest that betting value was available at 4-5 odds.

Gaylor won by three lengths, with the entry finishing second and third. Gaylor paid $14.40, an above-average price for trainer Pat Byrne, who won 18 percent of his races last year.

Pete's Revenge, a 6-year-old with back class, was the 2-1 choice in the third, a $5,000 claiming race for horses who had not won two races in 2001-2002. The race conditions made a wide-open race likely, a fact that didn't bode well for those who bet the favorite. Pete's Revenge hadn't won a race since May 2000, and kept that streak alive by finishing fifth. Fiery Six paid $136.40 to win, and keyed a $455.20 exacta, a $5,687 trifecta, a $26,254.80 superfecta, and a $11,968.20 pick three.

Round up nine older $15,000 claimers who have never won two races, and you can expect a level of parity that even the National Football League would envy. But bettors settled on Flashy I.D. at 2-1 in the sixth race. Flashy I.D. didn't show a winning race from the 10 past performance lines on her page. She didn't look any better or worse than three or four other contenders, but the presence of Prather attracted enough support to make her the public choice. She checked in third behind Time For Ruby, who paid $12.40.

I won't belabor the point by going into exquisite detail on the rest of the card. Suffice to say that Equivocate, the 2-1 favorite in the seventh, finished eighth of 10 in his 10th attempt to leave the maiden ranks. Ide Be Spencers settled for second at even money in the eighth race, and P.J. Brown, with Prather aboard, finished 10th of 12 in the nightcap, while bet down to an underlaid 9-5. A Higher Authority, the winner of that race, paid $31 to bettors bold enough to imagine that a $7,500 maiden claiming race might yield a somewhat unpredictable result.

If you're an owner seeking big purse money, I can understand why you would want to head for Gulfstream or Santa Anita. But if you're a bettor seeking contentious races that are likely to produce longshot winners, you should be betting on the races at Turfway. It shouldn't be long before you win enough money to pay for a vacation to Florida or California.