05/30/2007 11:00PM

12-1 shot in Dogwood key to pick three riches


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Multi-race wagers like the pick three and pick four are often best played when a bettor can single a horse and take some shots in the other legs. The single keeps the price of the ticket modest, and the depth in the other legs of the wager provides the opportunity for a useful score.

Try as I might, however, I can't single one horse in Saturday's all-stakes pick three at Churchill Downs, which comprises the Opening Verse, Dogwood, and Aristides Breeders' Cup Stakes. Contention simply runs too deep.

Beginning with the Opening Verse, the eighth race on the card and the first leg of the wager, here are the horses I will play on my ticket.

* The Opening Verse, a 1 1/16-mile grass race, drew a solid field of eight, led by morning-line favorites Icy Atlantic and Go Between, who finished eighth and ninth in the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve on May 5.

Both are legitimate runners who figure to benefit from a class drop into the ungraded Opening Verse.

My top selection in the race, based largely on value, is 4-1 morning-line choice Free Thinking. Runner-up in last year's Kelso and Firecracker handicaps, he is a horse capable of producing a top grass effort.

He has been unlucky in recent starts. Freshened after an 11th-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Mile, a race he left with a swollen eye, he has not been able to produce his best race in two starts this year. He faced a near-impossible task off a layoff against Kip Deville and Showing Up in the Grade 2 Maker's Mark Handicap at Keeneland in his first start of the year, finishing seventh. And last time out, he had the misfortune of having to make up ground in a mile turf race after early leader Junior College walked the opening quarter in 25.78 seconds.

On the downside, he has won just once over his last 13 starts, so I'll go three deep in the Opening Verse, also using Icy Atlantic and Go Between.

* The next stakes race, the Dogwood Breeders' Cup, will likely have Lady Joanne as a clear favorite. At 3-1 on the morning line, I would expect her to start closer to 2-1.

Winner of her last two starts, including the Grade 2 Golden Rod last fall, she is the most probable winner, but I feel she will be overbet off a comeback race in which she won with a perfect, ground-saving trip.

My selection in the race is 12-1 morning-line shot Girls Pearls. A former maiden $40,000 claimer, she has blossomed recently, winning three straight. She is at her best in long one-turn races, making the Dogwood at one mile on the main track a good fit.

High Again, the Bonnie Miss winner who ran 13th in the Kentucky Oaks, also has run some of her best races at a mile.

I'll use Girls Pearls, Lady Joanne, and High Again - hoping Girls Pearls can pull off the upset and create the potential for a rewarding pick three payoff.

* The all-stakes pick three ends with the Aristides, the 10th race, which features Fabulous Strike, a horse who has racked up freaky Beyer Speed Figures of 118, 119, and 115 while easily winning three straight stakes starts at Mountaineer Park.

I'll try to beat him, aiming to hit the pick three with Gaff or Greg's Gold.

The versatile Gaff enters the Aristides at the top of his game, having won the Aegon Turf Sprint on May 4 at Churchill. Although that race came on turf, he has done most of his running on dirt. He won the Bonapaw Stakes on dirt at Fair Grounds over the winter, and also won the Grade 3 Mr. Prospector at Gulfstream Park in winter 2006.

The 2005 Bing Crosby Stakes winner Greg's Gold, who makes his first start outside California in the Aristides, also is sharp, having won 4 of his last 5.

The ticket

Using the horses outlined above - Free Thinking (No. 2), Icy Atlantic (3), and Go Between (7) in the Opening Verse; Girls Pearls (8), Lady Joanne (1), and High Again (7) in the Dogwood; and Gaff (3) and Greg's Gold (2) in the Aristides - results in a $18 ticket for a $1 bet.

Timing discrepancy at Keeneland

As a follow-up to last week's column, which noted large timing discrepancies between Trakus and the official times from the Maker's Mark Mile and Elkhorn Stakes during April's Keeneland meet, Bob McCarthy of Trakus said Tuesday that his company had the wrong times for those races.

Trakus, which uses a radio-frequency tracking and timing system, not timing beams like a teletimer, was not properly set up by its on-track operator to account for the turf lane over which those races were being contested, he said.

Keeneland, like virtually all tracks with a turf course, conducts racing over different turf lanes in an effort to protect portions of its grass course. American Teletimer is the official timer there.

With adjustments made to account for the turf lanes over which the Elkhorn and Marker's Mark Mile were run, Trakus has published new times on the Keeneland website that match the official track times within approximately a tenth of a second. The times had differed by two to three seconds.

In handicapping the Louisville Handicap and Hanshin Handicap last week, which had entrants exciting the Elkhorn and Maker's Mark Mile, my inclination, based in part on the new technology and the favorable next-out performances of other horses exiting those races, was that the faster times posted by Trakus might have been more reasonable.

The initial timing discrepancy confirms the value of having two timing systems in place. I like the idea of having a data-tracking timing system and a Teletimer, whereby times can be measured against one another for accuracy.