11/28/2007 1:00AM

Watching the Fort (Erie arrivals)

EmailETOBICOKE, Ontario - The waning days of the marathon Woodbine meeting have had no shortage of cheap races with large fields, which are often hard to decipher.

The Polytrack has added an unknown element to handicapping this fall, because many of these lesser horses come here from Fort Erie and have yet to race on the synthetic surface, or have been inept over it. Judging how these runners fit in with the locals can be tricky, but clues to solving the puzzle can be gleaned from several recent races.

Horses coming from maiden special weight company at Fort Erie can be a good fit here against $25,000-20,000 maidens, if you believe Talk to Me Girl is an accurate example. Talk to Me Girl was a distant fifth over a sloppy track when she debuted Oct. 2 in maiden special weight company for a $16,000 purse at the Fort. She subsequently ran second at Woodbine versus $25,000 maiden claimers, before graduating against $20,000 maidens here Nov. 17.

Woodbine racing commentator Elissa Blowe, who does a handicapping analysis in Fort Erie's track program, believes runners from the border oval should be taken seriously, as long as they're properly placed and sent out by a competent trainer.

"Whatever comes here from Fort Erie at the end of the year, they should be the cream of the crop," Blowe said. "The trainers who come here have been here before. They race here regularly, and they know what the competition is like. I don't think they're going to waste their time bringing a horse who's not going to make them some money."

Sharp shippers who are rising in class merit close scrutiny. Expect No Regret romped at Fort Erie in a $5,000 race for nonwinners of three Oct. 27, then doubled up against $12,500 3-year-olds here Nov. 15, while raising his Beyer Speed Figure significantly, from 61 to 72.

Blowe thinks the low-level conditioned claimers are about the same in terms quality at both tracks. "I don't think there's much of a difference, especially at this time of year," she said.

Just a Bluff backs up her theory. He finished second in a nonwinners of three while being claimed for $5,000 at Fort Erie Oct. 14, then won at the $10,000 nonwinners-of-three condition here in his next start.

Blowe believes that experience over synthetic surfaces isn't a prerequisite for handling Woodbine's Polytrack.

"They don't have to have raced on it," she said. "There were many Fort Erie-based runners this year who won over it after never even working over it. And a lot of trainer Nick Gonzalez's big horses got ready at Fort Erie, and then came here two works before they raced. I think that says something.

"From being on the backside, I've heard two different things. Horses either love the Polytrack, or they hate it - they come back from a race, and have issues."

Fort Erie invader Jan's Trophy looks like the speed in Friday's ninth race, and might take some catching in the $32,000 claimer for 2-year-old fillies.

Jan's Trophy graduated in a five-furlong maiden special two starts ago, and is coming off an easy victory in the $25,000 Longshots OTB Cup, a stakes for horses who had started at least once at Fort Erie in 2007.

Outside looking in

On Nov. 17, Hedge on Gold became the first route winner from 18 starters to break from post 14 on the Polytrack since racing over it began at Woodbine on Aug. 30, 2006.

Hedge on Gold captured a $10,000 claimer for nonwinners of three that day, in her first start for trainer John Ross. The win came nearly a month after she was eighth in a sloppy allowance sprint at Fort Erie.

Outside posts have done poorly in routes throughout the meet. Through Sunday, posts 12 to 14 had a combined 2 wins from 57 starters.

It should be noted that the post position statistics in Daily Racing Form differ from those posted in Woodbine's track program, which combine the turf and Polytrack races.