03/02/2009 1:00AM

Aqueduct's pick-four challenge grows


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - The third installment of Aqueduct's $250,000-guaranteed late pick four could well be the toughest Saturday sequence yet. The fields of 11, 10, eight, and 12 include an eight-horse Stymie that stacks up as the toughest stakes race of the winter and 10,560 possible combinations pending late scratches.

The road to riches is fraught with peril:

Race 6: No Questions (77 Beyer Speed Figure) and Manchild (76 Beyer) have the best numbers. The $64 question is whether No Questions reverts to his mediocre form on turf, synthetic, and sloppy tracks, or runs back to a much better effort in his first start on fast dirt. Manchild ran a new top figure off a seven-week break when in for $40,000 and breezed sharply on Monday.

Pending a look at early betting and prerace physical appearance, Pax, with a best-of-107 gate work recently, and Hot to Trot, from a high-percentage debut barn, are the best guesses among the newcomers.

Second-time starters Sal Paradise, who showed speed first time out versus eventual stakes winner Musket Man, and We Get It, who chased three next-out winners including Gotham-bound Imperial Council, have been away since last fall, but either could improve on short notice.

Scorper deserves some consideration off two grass races at Calder last fall, the first one a rough stretch run behind Cape Royale, winner of the recent $150,000 OBS Championship in Ocala.

Race 7: Buy a Personality improved steadily to top out with an 86 Beyer last June; even though Bruce Levine excels with long layoffs, horses that haven't been out in more than eight months are inherently risky stand-alone types. We may have no choice.

Future Prospect is second-fastest off a win at Churchill Downs last fall, and his final start of the year was an excusable fade in a stakes race over Polytrack. After flashing speed in a sprint off a trainer change to Mike Maker three weeks ago, he drew tough on the far outside for this stretch-out.

Conquer the Fear isn't far off the top two based on two improved sprints earlier at the meet. Shot Gun Holiday is headed in the right direction, slowly but surely.

Race 8: If the Stymie were still a handicap race, Researcher would be picking up a couple of pounds from a game win in the Queens County, his fourth straight win to close out 2008. Under the allowance conditions, however, he must shoulder an additional nine pounds and has to do it off a 10-week layoff.

Brilliant Son ran Researcher to a half-length in the Queens County; he was then a remarkable third in the Evening Attire, when he pressed Barcola through fast fractions, took a brief lead nearing the stretch, and came back again late.

Barrier Reef is lengths better on the inner track than he is anywhere else, however, and he might get the same lively pace setup if Brilliant Son (who has never won at two turns) can't relax early.

True Resurgence is an in-and-outer who's been freshened eight weeks since misfiring in a slow-paced Hal's Hope; he worked sharply at Palm Meadows before returning to New York, where he won off a similar break in December.

Race 9: The cash-out leg is a Dropdown Derby for $10,000 claimers who haven't won in six months, and most among the full field of 12 haven't won in a lot longer than that.

Things center around a pair of suspicious droppers, Double or Nothing and Yelt, who were third and seventh as a 7-5 entry for three times as much money last out.

Double or Nothing won a stakes last March and had no takers at the claim box twice last month, but even so, Rick Dutrow routinely wins with multi-level class drops.

So does David Jacobson, who claimed Yelt last time.

A caveman ticket covering all the discussed contenders would entail a 7x4x4x2 ticket of 224 combinations. By designating key contenders in each leg and structuring things so any two legs must be won by a key horse, the outlay can be reduced nearly 50 percent by making out 11 tickets, covering 126 combinations as follows:

The keys:

Race 6: Hot to Trot, No Questions, Manchild

Race 7: Buy a Personality

Race 8: Brilliant Son, Barrier Reef

Race 9: Double or Nothing

The tickets:

7, 8, 9/2/4, 7/4 - $6

7, 8, 9/2/4, 7/6 - $6

7, 8, 9/2/2, 6/4 - $6

7, 8, 9/6, 7, 10/4, 7/4 - $18

2, 5, 6, 10/2/4, 7/4 - $8

2, 5, 6, 10/2/4, 7/6 - $8

7, 8, 9/6, 7, 10/4, 7/6 - $18

7, 8, 9/2/2, 6/6 - $6

2, 5, 6, 10/2/2, 6/4 - $8

7, 8, 9/6, 7, 10/2, 6/4 - $18

2, 5, 6, 10/6, 7, 10/4, 7/4 - $24