08/29/2001 11:00PM

Two puzzles with no clear answers

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - The sixth and final Saturday at Saratoga promises high-octane action in the form of two very competitive Grade 1 sprints - the Hopeful for 2-year-olds and the Forego Handicap for older males.

After reading Tom Brohamer's revised Modern Pace Handicapping (DRF Press) earlier this year, I resumed the practice of making my own "Quirin-style" pace and final-time figures, and it is in races like the Hopeful when they come in mighty handy.

My final-time figures are usually in sync with the Beyers, give or take. But it is the pace figures that add a second dimension to how the race was run. Like most players, I have found their predictive power to be most potent in sprints.

Let's take a look at the Hopeful field in post position order, along with their figures:

HorseBest BeyerBest Quirin

* Roman Dancer86105-101

* Jump Start87114-104

* Thunder Days78104-102

* Came Home105105-107

* Mayakovsky90103-106

* Deputy Connor6491-96

* Proud Citizen96101-105

Came Home is the "top fig" in terms of Beyers, and also on the Quirin-style figures, though Beyer has a bigger spread back to the next-fastest horse.

Besides that difference, there are two interesting things to note about the other two marquee players, Jump Start and Mayakovsky.

To begin with, Mayakovsky has received reams of press in the wake of his debut victory here opening day, when he ran 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:03.32 and broke a track record that had stood for 55 years. The track was extremely fast on July 25, however, and though the second division didn't go quite as fast, another 2-year-old dash was covered in 1:03.68 later on the card.

In terms of pace figures, Mayakovsky earned a 103, a nice enough effort, but one he will have to improve on while stretching out to seven furlongs in a tougher field. He is likely to be overbet because of all the publicity.

As much attention as Mayakovsky received, comparatively little fanfare was made over the Saratoga Special, in which Jump Start wore down Heavyweight Champ. The final time of that race was about average compared to previous runnings of the Special, but it was the internal fractions that were truly remarkable.

Consider that last year, City Zip's Saratoga Special was run through 22.17 seconds, 45.27, 1:10.38, and 1:16.88 splits. On Aug. 15, on a surface I rated approximately two ticks slow to the pace call and one tick slow at the finish, Heavyweight Champ rolled through incredible fractions of 21.57, 44.52, and 1:10.44, before Jump Start finally overtook him in 1:17.35.

Heavyweight Champ earned a phenomenal 116 pace figure, the sort of figure usually reached only by top older graded-stakes sprinters. Heavyweight Champ arguably qualifies as one of the real hard-luck losers of the meet.

Without pace figures, Jump Start - who thus far ranks only fourth-fastest on the Beyers as well as Quirin-style final time figs - is the kind of horse handicappers might dismiss prematurely.

But that 114 pace figure is a loud warning shot to keep him in the mix for further study. After all, no matter how fast they go in the early stages of the Hopeful, Jump Start has already shown he can cope with a furious pace.

As far as the Forego is concerned, whether you consult the Beyers or Quirin-style figs, the conclusion is pretty much the same: This is one of the most wildly competitive races of the entire meet. Only Big E E and Valiant Halory have not recorded a Beyer of at least 110, but even those two have each run their best lifetime figures on this racetrack, and must be considered for the exacta and trifecta.

Contrarians will dive head-first into the Forego because it offers the chance to reasonably take a stand against the two horses with the best last-out figures, Left Bank and Say Florida Sandy.

Left Bank solidified his reputation as the fastest classified allowance sprinter in captivity when he matched his lifetime top Beyer, a 114, first time back from a layoff on Aug. 13. The last time Left Bank ran a 114 in allowance company off a layoff and then stepped into a graded stakes, the result was a seventh-place finish at odds-on at Keeneland back in April. In stakes races above the Grade 3 level, Left Bank has finished out of the money in all four attempts.

Say Florida Sandy is an amazing story, and it is hard to imagine how this 7-year-old horse has the recuperative powers to have run 111-110-111-110-111 in his last five starts. He has got to "react" at some point, and he has also gone winless from three previous Spa starts.

The horse with a chance to rebound is Bonapaw, who is the fastest horse in the race when he fires his "A" race.

Bonapaw came up a flat third as the 7-5 choice in the A.G. Vanderbilt Handicap first time out at the meet, and first time off a trainer change. It's hard to make the excuse that Bonapaw didn't like the track, because previous efforts this year include a 114 at Fair Grounds, a 119 at Oaklawn Park, a 112 at Churchill Downs, and a 117 at Prairie Meadows.

Form-cycle patterns probably have more to do with it. Bonapaw ran that 117 first time back from a two-month layoff, and then found himself farther back off the early pace than he's accustomed to in the Vanderbilt. He has bounced back before en route to a 11-6-1 record from 24 starts, and should be a much better price second time out at the meet.