10/21/2003 11:00PM

Aldebaran secures luck of the draw


ARCADIA, Calif. - Post-position never was going to make or break the deep closer Aldebaran in the Breeders' Cup Sprint. But when leading Sprint hopefuls Shake You Down and Valid Video got stuck with unwanted posts for the six-furlong race on Saturday, Aldebaran skeptics were forced to concede the obvious.

Favored at 3-1 to win the Sprint and widely perceived as one the most vulnerable favorites on the Breeders' Cup card, Aldebaran has a legitimate chance to win after all. And it is largely by default. Because at the post draw Wednesday, the most qualified Sprint entrant Shake You Down got buried in post 2.

Furthermore, Zavata is trapped on the rail; presser Valid Video was pushed into post 4; and front-runner Midas Eyes landed post 5. Add it up, and the inside part of the gate is loaded with speed. The pace meltdown that Aldebaran requires became increasingly likely to occur.

Drawing post 2 did not sit well with Shake You Down's trainer Scott Lake. "Just my luck," he said, "two Breeders' Cup Sprints, and you draw the 1-hole and 2-hole."

The Lake-trained Thunderello drew post 1 in last year's Sprint, and finished second to Orientate.

Lake said Shake You Down "is enough horse that he can overcome this. It's not the worst thing in the world. His initial jump isn't the quickest, but his next two or three are really sharp."

Shake You Down will have to be quick early, or get swallowed up in a race likely to develop at a severely contested pace.

Zavata's best races are when he presses the pace. Drawn inside, jockey Gary Stevens has little choice other than to use his colt's speed. Valid Video in post 4 also is quick, and comebacker Midas Eyes has been one-two at the first pace call in all five of his starts. That totals four front-runners in posts 1 through 5. For Shake You Down, the 4-1 second choice, the first few strides from the gate will be crucial.

"[Jockey Mike Luzzi)] is going to have to go the first couple jumps, and then see what everyone else is doing," Lake said. "I'm thinking that Zavata has some speed, and Frankel's horse Midas Eyes is going to kind of gun away from there. Ideally, we can sit right behind hem.

Ideally for closer Aldebaran, the front-runners will burn each other out and set it up for his closing rally. However, it goes against the grain of the short-term track profile. Through Sunday, only 5 of the 31 six-furlong sprints at the meet had been won by a horse rallying from more than three lengths off the pace at the first call.

In posts 7 through 13, the horse that benefited most at the draw was 6-1 third favorite Yankee Gentleman, who landed post 12. Yankee Gentleman was compromised by the inside post his last start. He was taken wide on the backstretch and through the turn, rallied four wide, and sputtered. From post 12 in the Sprint, Yankee Gentleman should be able to adopt a stalking position while gradually easing toward the inside.