09/25/2003 11:00PM

All-chalk pick four? Not necessarily

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PHOENIX - By guaranteeing a $400,000 pool for its stakes pick four on Sunday, opening day of the Oak Tree meet, Santa Anita certainly got the attention of most players.

The favorites in each race - Halfbridled (Oak Leaf), Storming Home (Clement L. Hirsch), Azeri (Lady's Secret), and Tates Creek (Yellow Ribbon) - look strong, and you have to use them. But by going a little deeper in these races, you give yourself a chance for a big payoff if a couple of these favorites lose.

Remember on Woodward Day at Belmont a few weeks ago? The pick four that day looked like it would be dominated by favorites, but even with Mineshaft winning and paying $2.60, the pick four came back a luscious $8,338 after 48-1 Buy the Sport won the Gazelle, and 10-1 Lunar Sovereign won the Man o' War. So don't assume the favorites are going to win all four races.

If, for example, Azeri loses in the Lady's Secret, most players will be eliminated. The key is to have the right second and third choices your ticket to take advantage of such an occurrence.

Oak Leaf: There's little doubt Halfbridled will be a strong favorite. She was nothing short of monstrous in her two Del Mar wins, including a display of grit and talent while winning the Del Mar Debutante. But there are issues here. While she's given every indication she can handle the 1 1/16 miles of the Oak Leaf, and she is bred for it, she has yet to run that far. She also runs two turns and on the Santa Anita track for the first time. Remember, too, we're talking about a 2-year-old filly, and drastic form changes can happen in a heartbreat.

Of course I'm going to use Halfbridled in my pick four, but also of interest are Daddy's Princess, a daughter of Mud Route so impressive graduating at Del Mar Aug. 24, and Lovely Rafael, a good-looking winner going a two-turn mile at Del Mar Sept. 4. By A.P. Indy-Campagnarde, Lovely Rafael is bred to run all day. I'll use all three.

Clement L. Hirsch: Storming Home may be the most vulnerable of the big four Sunday, not because of talent but because of his antics, like the one that cost him the Arlington Million. His victory in the Whittingham Handicap wasn't exactly a powerhouse performance either. Johar is a legitimate Grade 1 horse, and back in January and February was considered by some to be the best turf distance horse in the country. He's a must-use. Irish Warrior and Continuously are nice horses, but I think either Storming Home or Johar will fire, so I'll use just them.

Lady's Secret: As great as Azeri is, she could be vulnerable. Her only loss came here, her goal is the next race - the Breeders' Cup - and she is giving some significant weight. Got Koko has done her best work here, and actually gave Azeri a bit of a scare at Del Mar. She receives significant weight from Azeri and figures primed off that Del Mar try. Elloluv is among the 3-year-old elite and returns from a vacation. She's got speed and also has done quite well here. Could she be in line for a top run off the bench? I'll use all three.

Yellow Ribbon: Tates Creek has been an absolute warrior but she has also shown vulnerability beyond 1 1/8 miles and she hasn't raced in two months. She has to deal with 1 1/4 miles here. Crazy Ensign, meanwhile, looked better than ever winning at Del Mar last out. I'll use both.

My $1 pick four ticket (3x2x3x2) totals $36. No doubt if the four chalksters come home I'll lose money. But if I beat two of them, I may well be signing on the dotted line.