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IT PAYS TO LISTEN TO THE HORSES AND TRAINERS

Ever have a horse come up and whisper in your ear? Ever have a trainer or a jockey give you wagering advice?

Probably not.

But if you learn to pay attention to certain information in the Daily Racing Form and track program, sometimes it's almost like having a private conversation with the key participants in a race.

The Happy Handicapper heard the voices several times last week while trying to solve the puzzles at Philadelphia Park (on Monday) and Fort Erie (on Tuesday). Sometimes he heard them in time to cash a nice ticket. Sometimes when it was too late. But each time, he got a good lesson in how to be a good listener.

Here's what he heard:

"That favorite is too tough." That's what five trainers seemed to be saying when they scratched their horses out of the Fort's fourth race, a 5-furlong sprint for $7,500 claimers.

The horse to beat was Thats The Problem, a 5-year-old gelding making his second start for trainer Don MacRae. Last time out, the gray gelding had won at the same distance and class by 11 lengths while posting a whopping Beyer Speed Figure of 98.

In the past, the horse had followed a good race (101 Beyer) with a bad one (48). But he also had followed a good one (101) with another good one (99). Would he "bounce" badly today or run well? The fact that so many trainers were ducking him was a big clue. He won easily and was money in the bank for those who bet him at 2-5.

It was the 21st winner of the season for sprint specialist MacRae, who now is tied with Tom Agosti atop the trainer standings. MacRae has a 54 percent success rate when his horse is the favorite.

"We love the mud." Four mares screamed that message in the third at the Fort. Sharide, Hacksaw Jane and There and Back were the only ones in the race to have previously won on a wet track. But the latter was wearing a "No. 3" shoe, a bar shoe that, as far as the Happy Handicapper is concerned, makes any horse an automatic throw-out because it could be a sign of problems.

The field also included Miss You Dearly, a 5-year-old daughter of Great Gladiator, one of Canada's premier mud sires. She also was ridden by Jennie Roche, the hot apprentice who sends out a message that will be discussed later. The Sharide-Miss You Dearly exacta paid $180. Hacksaw Jane finished third for an $860 trifecta.

"Trust me, I have noticed something." That's what Philly Park trainer Ramon Preciado seemed to be saying about Rocky Roan, a 4-year-old he claimed for $6,250 about a month ago. After two out-of-the-money finishes on dirt (the last just six days ago), he entered her Monday in a 5-furlong sprint on the turf. In 31 lifetime starts, she had only run once on the grass and she finished far back then.

Preciado, the track's No. 2 trainer with a 25 percent win rate, knew what he was doing. Perhaps influenced by her turf breeding (sire Trempolino won France's Arc de Triomphe and finished second in the Breeders' Cup Turf in 1987), Rocky Roan won by 1 3/4 lengths and paid $29.60.

"This horse is worth the trip." The H.H. has long preached the merits of betting on horses ridden by Woodbine jockeys who travel to Fort Erie on their days off (Mondays and Tuesdays), especially if they make the 100-mile journey to ride just one race.

Jockeys Na Somsanith and Julia Brimo fit the description perfectly Tuesday and both went home with the money. Somsanith piloted Dawn's Prospect to a $9.20 victory for veteran trainer Alex Bankuti (remember when he was the Fort's "B meet" champion in 1983 and '84?). And Brimo, who waited around until the 11th race, won easily with Seymour Bennett's mud-loving Sharky Brown ($7.40).

"This horse is not worth the trip." Woodbine biggie Jono Jones also fit the WROMAT (Woodbine rider on Monday and Tuesday) description when he was originally named to ride Winter Whiskey in the feature. But when a substitute rider was announced at the beginning of the day, maybe Jones was trying to tell us something. Winter Whiskey, who'd finished last in his only previous mud race, never fired and finished fourth at odds of 9-5.

"I like this horse best." Three horses in the Fort's 10th race -- Meetmeatthegate, Pleasureindancing and Paging Beauty -- had been ridden last time out by Cory Clark. This time, she stuck with trainer Dennis Erwin's Paging Beauty. She made the right choice, won by 1 1/2 lengths and paid $14.70.

"My horse is live." That's what trainers seem to be saying whenever they name Roche -- and her five-pound apprentice allowance -- to ride. The red-hot rookie is sixth in the standings with 31 wins (including 10 for co-leading trainer Agosti) and has been in the money in 42 percent of her starts. On Tuesday, she notched two wins and three seconds on six mounts.

"Look out for me." Speaking of red-hot jockeys, Neil Poznansky rode eight winners last week, including three each on Sunday and Monday, and now ranks second in the standings with 43 wins, just two behind defending champion Martin Ramirez, who has had only two winners in the last eight racing days.
e-mail: rsummers@buffnews.com

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