07/22/2003 11:00PM

Work of 'super trainers' defies logic


BOSTON - Consider the case of Lord Abounding.

Last fall he developed into a very nice 3-year-old sprinter. On Oct. 23 at Laurel he earned a strong Beyer figure of 88. After he fell back to a 61 in his next start and then improved to a 72 in the mud at Aqueduct, he showed up at Gulfstream on Jan. 23 in the middle of a figure cycle that made him usable at odds of 28-1.

He lost by a neck and jumped up to a Beyer of 95. In his next start he surprised me by improving again, this time making a huge leap to a Beyer of 108, while taking advantage of a speed-favoring Gulfstream strip.

During this impressive run Lord Abounding was in the capable hands of trainer Allen Iwinski - a man perhaps a cut below "super trainer" status, as Andy Beyer has labeled trainers who have extraordinarily high win percentages. But on Feb. 28 Lord Abounding was claimed for $65,000 by miracle-working trainer Mark Shuman - runaway leader at the Gulfstream meeting, and a sudden and surprising member of the elite "super trainer" club.

Not surprisingly, Lord Abounding came back in three weeks and galloped off to an easy five-length win with a Beyer of 113. That day he was claimed for $150,000 by trainer Eddie Plesa Jr., a solid Florida trainer. It was a bold purchase. Did Plesa think he could improve on the work of the remarkable Shuman-owner Michael Gill combination?

On April 12, Plesa tried Lord Abounding on the turf. He ran okay, but fell way back to a Beyer of only 96. In his next start, at Churchill Downs on May 3, he improved to a 104. He appeared set up for another cycle up to a big Beyer. But he failed, losing a Calder stakes race by a nose at odds of 4-5 and fading to a Beyer of 95. Then Lord Abounding returned at Calder on July 12 for the Smile Sprint Handicap. He ran eighth with a Beyer of 91.

The change in trainers had short-circuited the cycle of Lord Abounding. While you can't expect a reversal of form in every similar case, you have to be cautious when a horse leaves the barn of a trainer like Shuman.

In that Smile Sprint Handicap was My Cousin Matt. As with Lord Abounding, My Cousin Matt had showed sharp talent late in his 3-year-old season. In September 2002 he won back-to-back high-priced claimers with Beyers of 98. Then he was claimed by Scott Lake, another one of the "super trainers." The speed figures of My Cousin Matt took off, from 98 to 103, 109, 110, and 113 in winning the General George at Laurel in February. But he finished only third in the Smile Sprint with a figure of 98.

The winner of the Smile Sprint - by a laughing margin of more than eight lengths - was Shake You Down, another Lake claim, for $65,000 on March 12.

Actually, there are two Shake You Downs. One is the steady Maryland sprinter who averaged a 91.5 Beyer in his six pre-Lake starts - the Dr. Jekyll version. A month after the claim, the other one, the Mr. Hyde version of Shake You Down, showed up, bullying his opposition with consecutive Beyer figures of 118, 118, 113, and 108. The old version of Shake You Down struggled along in the low 90's. But the high-performance upgrade zoomed along at an average of 115.6.

And as his Smile Sprint explosion demonstrated, Shake You Down showed he could run up to 121, on cruise control. He is now among the favorites for the Breeders' Cup Sprint.

We are also privileged these days to be witness to the most powerful barn in the history of American stakes racing - Bobby Frankel's. Last weekend's performances by the Frankel-trained Spoken Fur and Wild Spirit in top graded races emphasize this fact. Spoken Fur won easily in the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks (although her Beyer was disappointing) and Wild Spirit galloped home under restraint in the Grade 2 Delaware Park Handicap (her Beyer of 110 matched the recent performance of another Frankel filly, Sightseek). If Spoken Fur continues to develop, Frankel could try a three-horse entry in the Breeders' Cup Distaff and gang up on last year's Horse of the Year, Azeri.

This is the brave new world of modern Thoroughbred racing, and handicappers have to play in it. Among other necessary adjustments, any analysis of Beyer Figure patterns has to take into account this "super trainer" phenomenon. For certain trainers, and we know who they are, the normal patterns often do not apply. These characters are in a special, separate category. They're a breed apart.