06/18/2003 11:00PM

Wet weather of past makes for tricky future

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ELMONT, N.Y. - Maybe it hasn't rained for 40 days and 40 nights, but it sure seems that way.

The coolest and wettest spring that even the most grizzled railbirds can recall gives way to summer on Saturday, but it's kind of hard to tell. Upwards of 15 inches of rain has already fallen at Belmont Park this June, and showers and thunderstorms remain in the forecast right through the weekend.

How's that tan going?

The turf courses have not been labeled firm since May 21 - a full month. They won't be firm again in the near future. Since May 22, a grand total of nine grass races have been run, all of them on courses labeled yielding or soft. In some cases the designation "heavy," which is rarely if ever used to describe a North American turf course, would have been applicable.

All of which is to say that when regular turf racing does finally resume, handicappers should reasonably expect all hell to break loose. Mother Nature has forced trainers to reduce, improvise, or completely alter their conditioning schedules (which affects dirt horses, too, of course). Moreover, for a meaningful approximation of finishing ability, you'll have to reach well back in a horse's form to come up with rateable races on firm turf. The further back you reach, the less reliable those ratings become.

As for the main track, it has been listed as fast for only three of the first 13 racing days in June, and for the most part it has been noticeably speed-favoring. This will also make for tricky handicapping in the coming weeks, because in addition to training interruptions, horses will be coming off last-race lines that may not be nearly as good, or as bad, as they look. In some cases, horses will have had two or even three races in a row on wet tracks.

Here is a day-by-day recap of the muck and mire so far this month:

Sunday, June 1 - Sloppy. No apparent trends.

Wednesday, June 4 - Sloppy. Speed and stalkers dominated.

Thursday, June 5 - Muddy, speed favoring. All dirt winners first or second at the first call.

Friday, June 6 - Fast. No apparent trends.

Saturday, June 7 - Fast-good-sloppy as rain arrived early on Belmont Stakes Day. No bias.

Sunday, June 8 - Muddy. No Bias.

Wednesday, June 11 - Fast. No bias.

Thursday, June 12 - Good (harrowed), speed favoring. Eight winners led or were up close early.

Friday, June 13 - Sloppy, speed favoring. Eight winners led or were up close early.

Saturday, June 14 - Good-sloppy. Speed favoring before and after heavy thunderstorm.

Sunday, June 15 - Fast, speed favoring. Seven front-running winners.

Wednesday, June 18 - Sloppy, speed favoring. Seven winners were first or second at first call.

For those who are looking for the silver lining in all the rain clouds, consider the following:

* Once summer arrives for real, there will be an abundant supply of relatively fresh horses, especially on the turf, where full fields of 10 or 12 should be commonplace at every class level.

* The turf courses have been used much less than normal, and they have received plenty of water, so they should be in tip-top shape for the remainder of the year.

Angle of the Week

The situation: Maiden special weight race for fillies rained off the turf to a sloppy main track on June 13.

The 2-1 favorite had a Beyer Speed Figure of 80 in her debut back in January, and her figures had declined in four subsequent starts: 72-71-65-62. Three of those losses came as the favorite, including defeats at 1-5 and 4-5.

The second choice at 5-2 had a Beyer line of 51-63-56-63 in four lifetime starts.

The third choice at 7-2 had lost her first six starts on turf in 2001 and 2002. She had returned from a long layoff to run twice on dirt earlier at the meet, earning figures of 51-53.

The winner at a fairly generous $13.60 mutuel was Try Harder, who had raced greenly in her debut at six furlongs with a Beyer of 52.

The angle - When the price is square, and the top choices look ordinary or have stagnant Beyer lines, play second-time starters to improve if their debut was within 10 to 12 points of today's projected winning figure.