05/14/2008 11:10AM

Early Adjudicating

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If you wanted to bet or watch the return of Ready's Image in today's featured Adjudicating Stakes at Belmont and assumed it was the eighth race, you'll miss it by nearly three hours. The five-horse field will go as the third race, with a scheduled post of 2:04 p.m.

If I thought Ready's Image was going to be as high as his 8-5 morning-line price, I'd wait until 2:00 and make a rare win bet on a favorite. I think this is a seriously talented horse and a legit Grade 1 sprinter, who ran faster at 2 than his rivals have at 3. He hasn't been out since October, when he suffered a knee chip as the 5-2 second choice in the Champagne, but has bullet workouts over three different tracks among his recent strong works. I expect him to win, but I also expect he'll be closer to 3-5 than his 8-5 ML price.

How to improve on that? I don't have a crushable exacta in mind, and the early pick-4 is out because the Adjudicating is followed by an impossible turf sprint. So instead I'm going to fool around with the new pick-three on races 1-2-3. The 2-3-4 sequence used to be the first pick-3 of the day at NYRA tracks, to prevent conflict with the daily double, but a 1-2-3 bet was added when Belmont opened April 30. It was a pretty well-kept secret, as the opening-day pool was only $16,060, but by the 10th day of the meeting Sunday, the pool was up to $54k.

I'm interested in the 1-2-3 sequence because I think the favorites are vulnerable in the first two legs. In the opener, Western Sweep takes a suspicious drop off a six-month layoff. I'll try to beat her with Pu Dew, Wildbutable, Reyana's Jet and Wundelia. In the second, the three favorites --Sacred Icon, Sapphire Eyes and Cool Tales -- are all pace-pressers stretching out and iffy at the distance. So I'll try three clunk-up longshots against them: Run Lightening Run (15-1), Tomlinson Hill (8-1) and Bishop's Creek (12-1). It's primarily a 4x3x1 pick-three play that I hope will turn a morning-line 8-5, and likely post-time 4-5, into 5-1 or better.

Update 1:04 pm: Argggh. Right idea, wrong horse. Got 2-1 ML fave Western Sweep off the board but ran 2-3-4 behind 7-1 Tzipi. Going to be pretty tough to get 5-1 on my $280 play now:

$20 pick-3: 2,4,5,7/5,6,7/2 =$240
$ 4 pick-3: 3,6/5,6,7/2 = $24
$ 4 pick-3: 2,4,5,7/3/2 = $16

Update 1:36 pm: Never mind.

Update 2:15 pm; Shoulda just taken the $3.90 to win on Ready's Image. The 1-2-3 pick-3 paid quite well -- nearly 50 percent over the $158.30 parlay at $232.50 for a $16.40/$9.90/$3.90 sequence. Turns out you could have improved $3.90 to $4.10 with an all/all/Ready's Image.

Can't say I was wowed by his performance, albeit his first start in seven months. Last down the backstretch, he found a seam and gradually wore down the tiring leaders, who dueled through a half in 44.68, to win by just under a length in 1:16.68. (Tzipi, whose usually runs Beyers in the low-to-mid 70's, won the first race in 1:17.94.) This was supposed to be a springboard for Ready's Image to the G1 Woody Stephens (formerly Riva Ridge) on the Belmont Stakes undercard, but he'll have to improve off today's effort to win it.