10/06/2005 12:00AM

What might have worked last week won't this week

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Gotaghostofachance runs in the Ancient Title a week after scratching from the Goodwood.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Gotaghostofachance could have raced gate to wire last Saturday in the Goodwood Handicap. His front-running upset over Rock Hard Ten would have triggered a juicy win payoff (8-1 morning line) and provided greater benefit to Rock Hard Ten than the paid workout in which he coasted past the helpless Roman Ruler.

But when Gotaghostofachance came up listless days before the Goodwood, trainer Roger Stein had no choice but to scratch Gotaghostofachance, whose runner-up comeback in the Grade 2 Pat O'Brien Handicap on Aug. 21 established him as a horse with graded-stakes class.

The scratch carried wide implications. First, it undermined the Goodwood pace scenario - the fractions (48.62 seconds and 1:12.12) were slower than $10,000 claimers typically run. The slow fractions allowed Rock Hard Ten to press the pace without overextending in his first start in nearly seven months. But does a slow-pace "workout" provide necessary foundation for a horse whose next start is the Breeders' Cup Classic?

Rock Hard Ten may be good enough to win the BC Classic despite the soft prep. After all, he has defeated the two horses who will be his main opponents - front-runner Saint Liam and closer Borrego. The scratch of Gotaghostofachance from the Goodwood, however, means Rock Hard Ten enters the BC Classic without having run in a competitive race since spring.

As for Roman Ruler, his Goodwood loss was partly the result of mistaken strategy. When you remove the main asset of a front-runner - his speed - he becomes vulnerable. Front-runners do not often win races by slowing it down early and kicking home late. Rather, they win by running away from their rivals early and dying home. Jockey David Flores put Roman Ruler to sleep on the lead. Under the circumstances, Roman Ruler had no chance to outfinish Rock Hard Ten.

The Saturday card at Santa Anita includes the Grade 1 Ancient Title, run over six furlongs. Bettors who planned to tee it up on Gotaghostofachance one week ago in the Goodwood will be tempted to wager similarly in the Ancient Title. Whatever was bugging Gotaghostofachance last week is gone; this week he has trained with vigor.

Gotaghostofachance might win the Ancient Title for the simple reason he is a good horse. But setbacks are setbacks, and a horse aiming for a nine-furlong race on one weekend is not automatically the proper wager in a six-furlong race the following weekend. Even in a Grade 1 as weak as the Ancient Title, Gotaghostofachance has dubious credentials.

Gotaghostofachance would be the first horse to win the Ancient Title without having previously earned a triple-digit Beyer Speed Figure in a sprint. Gotaghostofachance is not fast enough to win. In the two-turn Goodwood, he may have gotten loose, but it won't happen in the Ancient Title. In order for Gotaghostofachance to win, he requires a career-best effort. Want to bet on a horse to peak one week after he was scratched for being listless?

The problem with the Ancient Title is the entire field is flawed.

McCann's Mojave's best recent races were at Hollywood Park going seven furlongs and 7 1/2 furlongs. McCann's Mojave finished off the board his last two sprints at Santa Anita, and even his 2004 graded stakes win at Santa Anita needs a qualifier - a nasty spill eliminated two of the five runners, including Watchem Smokey, who was making the winning move when he went down.

Captain Squire wired an allowance field in his return from a one-year layoff. He is a fast horse whose best form is more than two years old - in winter and spring of 2003, he was among the elite sprinters in California. Time marches on, and Captain Squire appears to have slowed.

Bear in the Woods has three wins, all as a fresh horse. He won his debut, an allowance comeback in fall 2004, and an allowance comeback in summer 2005. He is working super, is Grade 1-placed, his 106 career-best Beyer qualifies, and there is speed to run at. He fits, in his first start since Aug. 21.

Zanzibar is not fast enough - his career-high Beyer is 90 - and remains unproven against top company in the U.S. But he was a Group 1 sprint winner in Argentina and hails from the hot barn of trainer John Sadler. Zanzibar is working like a horse ready for a breakout race at a big price.

Bilo enters as the most intriguing starter, because he is a "one-figure" horse. An honest allowance horse until spring 2005, he reached a new level this summer at Del Mar. In a wicked display of speed, Bilo raced to the wire in a blistering 1:08.20, earning a 114 Beyer in his ninth career start. If the performance was a fluke, he will not win the Ancient Title. But if Bilo reproduces the effort - and the gamble is that he will - he can win the Ancient Title.