09/17/2003 11:00PM

All Super signs point to Soto


NEW YORK - The Super Derby, Kentucky Cup Turf Festival Day, and the aftereffects of Hurricane Isabel are the main stories of interest from Saturday's stakes action.

The $500,000 Super Derby at Louisiana Downs found a nice niche on the calendar, falling between major event weekends at Belmont Park in New York. As a result, this Super Derby is both the richest and most significant stakes race in the nation on Saturday.

The Kentucky Cup Turf Festival comprises four stakes races at the unique venue of Kentucky Downs. The $200,000 Kentucky Cup Turf is the most lucrative event on a program that also includes the Mile, the Dash, and the Ladies Turf, each worth $100,000.

By Saturday, Hurricane Isabel should be just an unpleasant memory. But, if the weather forecasts as of Thursday afternoon are even remotely close to being correct, Isabel will leave a lingering impact. Copious amounts of rain may well force Saturday races such as the $200,000 Caesar Rodney Handicap at Delaware Park and Belmont's $150,000 Noble Damsel to be switched off the turf and run instead on the main track.

Here are my three spotlight stakes.

Super Derby

This is strictly a two-horse race between Soto and Ten Most Wanted, as the triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures they have earned in their recent races are better by a long way than anything the rest of the field has ever earned. And, while I respect Ten Most Wanted, and am not mad at him because he ran perhaps the worst race of his life when I picked him in the Kentucky Derby, I think Soto will win this race.

While it is true that Ten Most Wanted's Kentucky Derby was an uncharacteristically dull effort, and that he was compromised when he ran against a strong rail bias when upset in the Swaps two starts back, those two losses still mean Ten Most Wanted has yet to put two triple-digit Beyers back to back. And, since he earned a Beyer of 112 when he won the Travers in his last start, he will be asked to do something for the first time Saturday, and as the heavy favorite. Moreover, Ten Most Wanted is taking a meaningful cut back in distance, shortening up from the 1 1/4 miles of the Travers to 1 1/8 miles.

Soto, meanwhile, has paired up triple-digit Beyers, having earned a 109 in his first start this year and then a 114 when he won the West Virginia Derby most recently. Soto is also competing at the same distance as the West Virginia Derby, in which he was so game in refusing to let Dynever get the best of him after a stretch duel. Soto has the speed to get the jump on Ten Most Wanted, and, like with Dynever, I don't think he will let Ten Most Wanted get by him in the stretch.

Foolish Pleasure

With the more accomplished Tap Dancer having drawn a tough outside post, Stolen Time is the firm pick. Stolen Time showed marked improvement last time out in the second start of his career, responding to the addition of Lasix to post a decisive victory over maidens. That performance was good enough for an 85 Beyer, which is already tops in the field, and a number he can certainly improve on third time out.

In addition, Stolen Time has something I love to see in 2-year-olds stretching out to two turns: early foot. While many people think that young horses who close sprinting will be naturals going a distance of ground, many times those rallying sprinters become even less effective going long because of the slower paces found in two-turn races. Young horses with early foot, on the other hand, are often more effective going long because slower fractions enable them to carry their speed even better.

Caesar Rodney Handicap

Delaware has a great turf course, but even the greatest can't handle the rain Delaware's turf course was supposed to get Thursday and Friday. So, in the expectation that this race will be moved to the main track, I will go with Bowman's Band. Bowman's Band is expected to come back strong after a freshening following a dull effort in the Salvatore Mile. If he is able to duplicate either of his prior two performances - a stakes win over the track and a strong second to the classy Tenpins in the Cornhusker - Bowman's Band will be hard to stop here.