06/08/2006 12:00AM

This 20-1 shot is worth a play


ELMONT, N.Y. - I'm going to try to get alive to five horses in the last leg of the $1 million guaranteed pick four and pick six ending with the 138th Belmont Stakes. If I get that far, I'll have four of the horses coming out of the Kentucky Derby - Bluegrass Cat (2nd), Steppenwolfer (3rd), Jazil (4th), and Bob and John (17th) - but I'll be rooting for the one stranger who just might have a shot at a big price.

Before getting to him, let's rationalize not using the other seven in the race.

The only easy throwouts are the hopelessly overmatched Platinum Couple, who has had 10 chances to exceed a Beyer Speed of 82, and Double Galore, who has done nothing but win a maiden race in his fifth attempt.

The next to go are Hemingway's Key and Sacred Light, either of whom might get up for a minor award but just look a cut below the top contenders. Hemingway's Key will take some money for running third in the Preakness, but he was never in contention and has been soundly beaten in all five of his stakes tries. Sacred Light, who has yet to finish first in a race, ran significantly slower than the Derby two-three-four finishers in an allowance race on the Derby undercard.

Deputy Glitters, High Finance, and Sunriver have all shown promise and each has run a single triple-digit Beyer, but all look very questionable at the 1 1/2-mile distance. Deputy Glitters has a lot of sprint in his pedigree. High Finance looks like a miler, which is as far as he has raced. Sunriver is a full brother to Ashado, whose best distance was the 1 1/8 miles at which Sunriver won the Peter Pan.

That leaves the four aforementioned Derby starters, who were all much bigger prices on Derby Day than they will be Saturday. That, coupled with the fact that none of them had dramatic trips that suggest they are capable of much better, makes it difficult to get excited about any of them.

Bluegrass Cat was an appealing Derby play at 30-1 to run back to his top form of last fall, but he was professional rather than scintillating in his perfect-trip second to Barbaro. He may well emerge as the best horse in the field and may be the most likely winner of the race, but is no bargain as the 3-1 favorite.

Bob and John will be a more appealing price because of his ugly Derby running line, but that race is clearly a throwout for the field's lone Grade 1 winner. He figures to get the clear, stalking trip he needs in here, possibly laying third or fourth early behind High Finance, Deputy Glitters, and Double Galore. His weak finish while winning the Wood Memorial can be attributed in part to having to go after a heavily favored speed horse in mid-race over a tiring and sloppy track.

Steppenwolfer and Jazil have to be used defensively as they have rallied late for a minor award in one big race after another and both should handle the distance. They won't be as far back early as usual, due to a more moderate pace scenario rather than any change in tactics, and will be finishing strongly.

So will Oh So Awesome, who is 20-1 on the line and worth serious consideration at that kind of a price.

Oh So Awesome, by Awesome Again from a Persian Bold mare, is bred to run all day and is the lone member of the field to have won at 1 1/4 miles or more, albeit in a $28,500 handicap race at Saint-Cloud in March. A Kentucky-bred, Oh So Awesome was repatriated from France a month later by Team Valor Stable and turned over to trainer Jimmy Jerkens. The colt made a sneaky-good dirt debut May 19 in the off-the-turf Maatch the Hatch Stakes at Belmont. Wrangled back off a slow pace on a sloppy track, he made a late run up a deep rail to finish third in what looked like a very deliberate prep under Mike Smith.

There is no guarantee that he is a graded-stakes-quality horse, much less a classic winner, off his European form, but sons of Awesome Again run much better on dirt than grass and Oh So Awesome moved up on dirt right away, even while running only in spots in the slop. He has plenty of room for improvement off his American debut. That may be enough to win a rare Belmont lacking both the Derby and Preakness winners, and enough for a longshot player to like him in a field where the other real outsiders are implausible at any price.