06/09/2010 11:00PM

Arson Squad key to a big day at Churchill

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - As on fire as I hope to be betting at Churchill Downs on Saturday, it seems only fitting that Arson Squad may prove the key to my fortunes in the big race of the day, the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap.

Okay, that's hyperbole, but when you've written more than 500 handicapping columns, you like it when your top selection's name gets your story started.

Besides, I really do like Arson Squad, and the supporting stakes for that matter; though don't think for a moment I don't know this game will humble an optimistic horseplayer. It will, a lot.

Arson Squad is a very good value play at 8-1 on the morning line, and the two preceding races similarly offer large, contentious fields, setting the stage for a potentially rewarding pick three ending with the Foster.

Here's why I like Arson Squad. For starters, seemingly the best horse in the race, Blame, is highly disadvantaged in post 11, and appears likely to experience a wide trip.

Arson Squad, by comparison, is favorably drawn in post 5, and many of those inside him do not share his style, likely placing him in a favorable stalking position in the probable two-path into the first turn.

That's key, too, as there is very little speed in the 1 1/8-mile Foster other than Battle Plan and Honest Man. The pace figures to be moderate, making tactical speed and positioning important.

I also am encouraged by Arson Squad's form. He has won his last two starts, the Grade 3 Skip Away at Gulfstream and the Grade 3 Alysheba over the Churchill Downs strip on Oaks Day.

Speaking of which, if you have a chance to watch the replay of the , note that he broke slowly but quickly recovered, securing a nice stalking position and showing no resistance to racing in traffic.

Granted, the Alysheba was not especially quick. Unrivaled Belle ran .29 of a second faster in defeating Rachel Alexandra in the La Troienne for fillies and mares earlier on the Oaks card, but the pace was slow in the Alysheba, making a fast time unlikely and Arson Squad had to spot four pounds apiece to all of his opponents.

The form from that race also has held up, with third-place Enriched subsequently winning an allowance at Hollywood Park on turf with a 110 Beyer Speed Figure.

Throw into the mix that Arson Squad is a millionaire with two graded stakes wins on dirt at 1 1/8 miles earlier his career -- the Swaps and Strub before the synthetic era in California -- and it's fair to say he should enjoy the 1 1/8-mile Foster distance.

His chances of victory are no better than a couple others in the race in this closely matched field, but he is a horse that should legitimately be 5-1 and, as previously noted, he stands at 8-1 on the morning line.

All-stakes pick three

As I mentioned, the pick three that ends with the Foster gets going with the Jefferson Cup, the eighth race, followed by the Regret in race 9.

Crider (No. 2), second in the Lone Star Derby behind eventual Belmont fourth-place finisher Game On Dude, has turned in a series of good races this year and drops weight with a class drop to face easier in the Jefferson Cup. He is the most probable winner and my key horse.

Appealing, but to a lesser extent, are Prince Will I Am (No. 6) and Colizeo (No. 4), who finished second and first in an allowance prep over the local surface. Prince Will I Am is slightly preferred over Colizeo, who is a bounce candidate after a big figure leap in winning his latest.

As for the Regret, it is the deepest of the five stakes Saturday.

It's Tea Time (No. 8), the Ashland runner-up who ran ninth in the Kentucky Oaks, is my top selection with a shift to turf. I also like, to a smaller degree, Jody Slew (No. 6), who is eligible to move up with a class drop and return to turf, and Go Ask Alex (No. 1), the likely pacesetter who has paired Beyers in the upper 80s in her last two starts.

And finally ending with the Foster, I like Arson Squad (No. 5), General Quarters (No. 6), and Battle Plan (No. 2).

Putting it all together, I'll play a $1 pick three 2,6,4 with 8,6,1, with 5,6,2 for $27, and then follow it with $1 pick-three tickets of 2 with 8,6,1, with 5,6,2, and another of 2,6,4, with 8, with 5,6,2. The latter two tickets cost $9 apiece. Total cost is $45.