01/08/2007 12:00AM

When a horse undergoes a change, watch out

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Declan's Moon may improve going sprint to route in the San Pasqual.P

ARCADIA, Calif. - A modest field of older horses will run 1 1/16 miles Saturday in the Grade 2 San Pasqual Handicap, and anyone who fails to recognize the potential significance of Declan's Moon's going sprint to route must not have paid attention to the first six days of the winter meet at Santa Anita.

This winter at Santa Anita, a recurring theme has been a string of victories by horses trying something different. The changes go beyond distance switches. They include surface changes, medication adjustment, and barn transfers.

It started Dec. 26 in the first race of the meet, when Taylor's Route added Lasix for his second start and sprang a $30.40 upset in a maiden claiming race. He was followed one race later by route-to-sprint Storm Mate, $9.60, winner of a downhill sprint.

Even the winner of the Malibu, Latent Heat at $13.40, was undergoing change. He was sick coming out of his previous race, an off-the-board finish on synthetic surface at Keeneland. But when he returned to dirt, healthy and fit off a two-month layoff, he paid $13.40.

Change does not supersede the basics of condition, class, pace, and speed. But sometimes, change is intermingled with the handicapping fundamentals. And the change can be as basic as a drop in class by a second-time starter.

Another Brother was dropping from an off-the-board finish in a maiden special weight when he dropped in class for his second start Dec. 28. Overlooked in betting on the $80,000 maiden claimer, Another Brother returned $20.40.

It sure is easy in hindsight. How about Billy's Echo, $65 winner of a turf sprint claimer on Dec. 28? A back-class veteran, 8-year-old Billy's Echo was making his second start since transferring to trainer Jason Orman.

"I trained him completely different," Orman explained. "I trained him too hard before his last race."

It would have been difficult for handicappers to recognize the modified training pattern, but change applies over a two-race sequence - the first and second time a horse does something new.

Can This Be True set the pace against a rally-wide bias and finished eighth in his debut. When he ran second time out, at speed-friendly Santa Anita, he outfinished the promising firster Painted Shadow. Can This Be True ($29.20) won by a neck in a quick 1:09.85.

Several other longshot winners this meet have undergone change. They include:

* Mosley went route-to-sprint in the last race Dec. 28, caught a pace meltdown, and rallied from far back for a $54.40 upset.

* Brag paid $35.40 first off the claim Dec. 29.

* Out of Coal paid $19.60 going sprint to route on Dec. 31.

Handicappers can also use the element of change to take a stand against a horse. There have been plenty of those, too.

* Brother Derek, a two-turn specialist, could have been wagered against when he started at 2-1 while shortening to a seven-furlong sprint in the Malibu. He finished seventh.

* Rich Sense, a $10,000 claiming filly who won from far back in her most recent start on the Cushion Track at Hollywood Park, was never a factor Dec. 29 on the speed-friendly dirt track at Santa Anita. Rich Sense finished a distant third at 7-5.

* Balance was the class of the field in the Grade 1 La Brea Stakes on Dec. 30. A route specialist, she was bet to favoritism at 5-2, but got outfooted by faster sprinters and finished third.

In coming weeks, several other horses will return with significant change.

* Notional will add blinkers next weekend in the Grade 2 San Rafael for 3-year-olds.

"We've been training him with blinkers," trainer Doug O'Neill said. "He should be more involved now without being asked."

There is precedence for Notional to improve with blinkers. O'Neill added blinkers on Liquidity for the Hollywood Futurity, and he finished second at 15-1.

* Specialist Morgen J won a maiden race Dec. 8 at Hollywood Park with an ordinary 83 Beyer Speed Figure. But he has since had surgery to correct a breathing disorder. When he faces allowance foes next time, he should run much better.

* Cantabria is a tough call next weekend in the El Encino Stakes. A turf filly, she ran the fastest 1 1/16 miles of the Cushion Track meet at Hollywood Park on Dec. 6, when she won in a blazing 1:41.61. She earned a big figure (92 Beyer), but it is mere speculation whether or not she will reproduce synthetic-surface form on Santa Anita dirt.

* Bushwacker was suffering from a respiratory infection when he chucked it Monday in the El Conejo Handicap on Monday. He will be a better horse, and a higher price, the next time he runs.

As for Declan's Moon, he is long removed from top form. Maybe he is not good enough for a graded stakes.

But if he still is a top horse, he will show it Saturday when he tries something different by racing two turns in the San Pasqual.