10/16/2002 12:00AM

Turn to sunny Calder on weekend washouts


With the miserable wet weather on much of the East Coast last Saturday, I searched around for a nice dry track to play. Calder looked like the ideal place, especially with its 13-race, high-quality Festival of the Sun card. My decision paid immediate dividends and gave me a good cushion. As it turned out, I needed it.

The dividends came in the first race, the $75,000 Birdonthewire for 2-year-olds. Super Fuse was the key. He had earned a 99 Beyer Speed Figure in his first start, and he seemed to be cycling back in that direction, with recent figures of 60 and then 77.

He opened on the board at 4-5, but gradually drifted up to close at 5-2. Super Fuse chased fractions of 21.26 and 43.77 seconds, took over on the turn and stayed well clear of the field, winning by 4 1/4 lengths. He ran right back to his original Beyer of 99, thus completing a rare perfect cycle. He paid $7.40.

The second race looked like a total scramble. Nearly all the horses were capable of running Beyers in the upper-70s or low-80s. But there appeared to be a lone speed horse, Rich Flight, who was starting from the rail and figured to control the race from start to finish. This did not escape the betting public, and Rich Flight was bet down from 5-2 to 3-2.

Dusty's Birthday also looked interesting. His last race was on the grass, but two races back he had run a Beyer of 89 on the dirt. A repeat of that figure would make him very tough to beat.

As often happens, the horse who appeared to be the lone speed didn't turn out to be alone at all. Rich Flight went out to the lead as expected, but jockey Roger Velez decided to keep him company. Velez's mount, longshot Mahi, had absolutely zero recent history of being any sort of front-runner. But, he kept pushing and pushing and dueling with Rich Flight every step of the way - or at least until Mahi collapsed from this suicidal bit of race riding and fell back quickly to finish last. He was ultimately eased, beaten roughly 25 lengths.

But Velez's antics had forced Rich Flight to fight the whole way and he tired in the very last strides to lose by a neck to Dusty's Birthday.

Despite the disappointment of not cashing a large double, the day was off to a reasonably good start with a winner in the first race and a saver daily double.

After the obligatory piddling away of some of the early profits in the middle races of the card, the eighth race finally presented a more serious opportunity.

Pay the Preacher looked like a big bounce candidate following his consecutive Beyers of 104. Unfortunately, he had the advantage of being speed on the rail on what had shaped up as a speed-favoring track. Still, I had to take a shot against him. Despite pressure on the lead, Pay the Preacher wired the field, earning a 105 Beyer. Well, sometimes they bounce, and sometimes they don't. In the case of these paired big figures, most of the time they do bounce. Pay the Preacher just reminded us that there are always exceptions to every so-called rule in handicapping.

In the ninth race on the turf, Cellars Shiraz looked like the lone speed and the best horse. She went off as the 3-2 favorite.

Something Ventured looked like good value for second to complete the exacta. She had enough early speed to at least stay close to the favorite, she should save ground from an inside post, and had jockey Jose Santos, whose trademark grass move is to put the brakes on immediately out of the gate and rock his way down the backstretch.

But this time Santos appeared to have some sort of brainstorm and rushed Something Ventured up after Cellars Shiraz right out of the gate. And he wouldn't relent until Cellars Shiraz finally conceded the lead on the backstretch. When Cellars Shiraz easily retook the front on the far turn it looked like Santos' mount was finished. But his horse hung in until the last few strides, when she finally was passed by a short-priced closer.

A more sensible ride on Something Ventured would've brought home a nice one-punch $25 exacta. Instead, I could only marvel at what mindless havoc jockeys can wreak.

The day came full circle in the 11th race - the $400,000 Florida Stallion Stakes. Trust N Luck had run a big race on Aug, 10, dueling in very fast fractions and holding on gamely for second with a Beyer of 90. Then, after throwing the jockey in his next start, he ran a 78 Beyer when he was stretched out around two turns for the first time on Sept. 21. If he could return to his 90 Beyer he would be very tough.

The public went for Lawbook on the rail. He had run consecutive big Beyers of 92 in August and, undaunted by the example of Pay the Preacher, I had to bet against him. Trust N Luck wired the field by 4 3/4 lengths, completing his perfect cycle back up to a 90 speed figure. He paid $8.20. Lawbook encountered some trouble but, nevertheless, bounced badly, finishing a very dull sixth, 12 3/4 lengths behind.

The day ended on a sour note with my trip horse from New York, Youghal Bay, getting another brutal ride from Santos, thus completing another, rather less appealing rider cycle. All in all, though, an entertaining day at the race book, with some profit and many lessons in the uses of Beyer Speed Figures. Now, if only the jockeys were as predictable.