08/07/2008 11:00PM

Winning trends at the Spa

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - As ideal as the weather was last year, that's how uncooperative it has been this summer. Mid-afternoon squalls have brought lightning, torrential rain, and the occasional nickel-sized hail, and forced 18 races off the grass, not including three that were lost when Friday's card was canceled after race 2 due to a wash-out on the far turn.

But no matter what Mother Nature has thrown in its path, the betting public has tabbed the right horse nearly 35 percent of the time; favorites were 50 for 144 through the first 15 days.

The crowd has been smartened up considerably with meet-specific data that is readily available. Should they somehow miss a meaningful nugget, there are non-stop seminars from dawn to dusk either on television or around the racetrack.

To further confuse you, here is a look at track and turf trends that measure winners' tactical position in two ways: those who either led or raced in second position (regardless of lengths) at the first call, and those who either led or were within two lengths at the pace call (the pre-stretch call).

Through Friday's racing, there has been a perfect linear relationship in both categories: the shorter the race, the more essential early speed has been.

* Short sprints

First or second at the first call: 69 percent

Within two lengths at pace call: 96 percent

* Six furlongs

First or second at the first call: 55 percent

Within two lengths at pace call: 84 percent

* Long sprints

First or second at the first call: 53 percent

Within two lengths at pace call: 79 percent

* Two-turn routes

First or second at the first call: 33 percent

Within two lengths at pace call: 71 percent

In the short sprints, 22 out of 23 winners either led or were within two lengths at the pace call. The lone exception was Yes I'm Clever ($7.80), a well-bet juvenile first-time starter who hugged the rail and came from seven lengths back (four at the pace call).

Horses breaking from the two inside posts won eight times, and horses in the two outside posts won 14 times.

Tactical speed also has been important at six furlongs, but it becomes more feasible to make up bigger deficits. Debating ($13) made up eight lengths. Abraaj ($5.40) was spinning his wheels four lengths back at the pace call but kicked in to take the A.G. Vanderbilt. Weekwee ($18.60) and Sorority Sister ($7.40) made up six lengths.

Outside stalkers have had an advantage in the long sprints out of the chute. Two of 19 winners broke from the rail, but seven broke from the outside post.

Winners have come from anywhere and everywhere in routes.

Seven of 21 route-race winners were first or second early, and 15 were within two lengths at the pace call. But bombers Worth a Shot ($71.50), Royal Skip ($33.40), Borrowing Base ($24.80), and Will Never Bend ($22.80) all made up at least nine lengths rallying to win from last or next-to-last.

Four winners broke from the rail and four winners broke from the far outside, but three of those were in the slop. Macho Again ($18.40) in the Jim Dandy is the meet's only fast-track route winner from the outside post, but he caught an ideal pace scenario off a suicidal duel.

When the weather hasn't wreaked havoc on turf racing, the Mellon course has been considerably less hospitable to early pace types than the inner turf course, though as one would expect both are less speed conducive than the main track.

* Mellon Turf sprints

First or second at the first call: 40 percent

Within two lengths at pace call: 73 percent

* Mellon Turf routes

First or second at the first call: 17 percent

Within two lengths at pace call: 42 percent

* Inner turf routes

First or second at the first call: 24 percent

* Within two lengths at pace call: 62 percent

Speed has fared better in turf sprints compared to turf routes, but is still far less favorable than in short sprints on dirt.

A notable stat in turf sprints concerns the rail post, which was 1 for 40 last year, and is 0 for 15 so far in 2008. Horses breaking from posts 1, 2, and 3 are a combined 3 for 45.

Meanwhile, Donna's Sandee ($21.60) won from post 11 and first-time starter August Rush ($11) won from the 12-hole.

Deep closers have had a field day in 11 routes on the Mellon, where 7 of 11 races were won by horses running eighth or farther behind early. Most notable among them were Diana winner Forever Together ($20), who trailed by 15 lengths, and first-time starter Hint ($110), the meet's biggest longshot, who was 14 lengths back early and seven lengths behind in midstretch.

In 21 routes on the inner turf (excluding three steeplechases), there have also been a handful of winners from out of the clouds. However, the two best prices were Unflagging ($62.50), a first-timer who was never more than two lengths from the lead, and Cagey Girl ($47.60), who led wire to wire.