01/08/2004 1:00AM

When to believe the top fig

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Speed handicappers face a familiar predicament this weekend at Santa Anita in the Grade 2 San Fernando and the Grade 3 San Miguel.

The high-figure horse in Saturday's San Fernando has never raced in a graded stakes, yet the 105 Beyer Figure that Anziyan Royalty earned in a one-other-than allowance last month equals or exceeds the figure earned by four of the last eight San Fernando winners.

Anziyan Royalty is the fastest horse in the 1 1/16-mile San Fernando, the second race of the Strub Series for 4-year-olds. But is his figure legitimate? And is it reasonable to expect him to reproduce the performance?

A similar quandary surfaces Sunday in the San Miguel. The high-figure horse was flattered by a track bias last out, yet the 98 Beyer that Hosco earned in a one-other-than allowance already places him among the top 3-year-old sprinters in California.

Hosco is the fastest horse in the six-furlong San Miguel. But is the figure he earned legitimate? Is it reasonable to expect Hosco to reproduce the performance? If he does, is it good enough anyway?

The final determinant in accepting or rejecting a high figure, of course, is price. Considering that the odds on Anziyan Royalty and Hosco will be relatively low, bettors are obligated to understand how their figures were earned, and what they mean this weekend.

The 4-year-old division this winter at Santa Anita is conspicuously weak. Whereas the Strub Series often marks the seasonal launch for the top 3-year-olds of the previous year, that is not the case in 2004. Santa Anita Derby winner Buddy Gil finished off the board in the seven-furlong Malibu, first race in the series, and his trainer is toying with the idea of running him on grass.

Atswhatimtalknbout is nursing a bruised foot and will miss the meet. Ten Most Wanted is pointing for a February comeback in the Strub Stakes, and Peace Rules is aiming for the Sunshine Millions. It means the San Fernando is ripe to be won by a new face. That is, if Anziyan Royalty is good enough.

Over the past 12 years, the median Beyer Figure for the San Fernando winner is 107. Yet that number is skewed high because of Best Pal's 121, Silver Charm's 112, and Bertrando's 109. Disregard those stars and the median San Fernando figure drops to 105, exactly what Anziyan Royalty earned last out.

It leads to the second question. Are circumstances sufficiently similar Saturday to expect Anziyan Royalty to reproduce the effort? The answer is an emphatic yes. Owned and bred by Nick Cafarchia and trained by Craig Dollase, Anziyan Royalty has raced four times on dirt. He won all four, improving each start. Anziyan Royalty did not unexpectedly earn a huge figure last time. He has been creeping toward the 105 for months.

While figures earned by lonely leaders often are viewed skeptically, Anziyan Royalty was loose on the lead only because he ran his rivals silly. He set wicked fractions of 45.50 seconds and 1:09.56 before widening his lead to win the 1 1/16-mile race by eight lengths. The Quirin-style pace figure that he earned was well above the graded stakes par, and that fact that his speed figure improved in concert with his pace figure suggests that Anziyan Royalty remains on a decided upward pattern.

The issue of class might be a concern for Anziyan Royalty, who is racing in a graded stakes for the first time. But it was only four years ago that Dollase entered Saint's Honor in the San Fernando following a one-other-than allowance win at Hollywood Park. Saint's Honor won the San Fernando at $50.60. Anziyan Royalty is a fast horse, perfectly qualified to win the 2004 San Fernando. Is he worth wagering on? That depends on his price. One thing is for sure - Anziyan Royalty is not worth wagering against.

Conversely, the Sunday stakes includes a high-figure horse with borderline credentials for a Grade 3 sprint for 3-year-olds. Take nothing away from Hosco - he is a fast horse who has never been headed. But two concerns arise. First, the Beyers earned by Hosco are below par for the San Miguel. Second, his last race might not be as good as it appears.

The median Beyer Figure for the San Miguel winner over the past 10 years is 103. Hosco faces a five-point deficit, having earned a 98 winning his second start. It is true that 3-year-olds often produce radical improvement early in the season, and that quantifying a deficiency that is relative to par can lead a handicapper to misguided analyses.

But the problem goes beyond the fact Hosco earned "only" a 98. The figure is clouded because of the circumstances under which it was earned. Two inches of rain fell at Santa Anita on Christmas, and while the track was fast for the Dec. 26 opener, the weather created a severe pro-inside bias that colored most of the day's races, particularly early on the card. Hosco broke from the rail in the first race of the meet. He scraped paint, ran fast, and won by a nose.

The predicament for handicappers is quantifying how much Hosco was flattered by the bias. If the race is accepted at face value, the speedster could be long gone. But the fact that his high-figure victory was accomplished under advantageous conditions suggests only one thing. Win or lose, Hosco at a short price may be a horse worth wagering against.