08/04/2008 11:00PM

Avoid Big Brown by playing pick 5

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OCEANPORT, N. J. - Goliath went down at short odds, the hare never caught up with the tortoise, and Joe Namath made sure the Colts didn't beat the Jets in Super Bowl III.

Big Brown's spectacular fall from grace in the Belmont Stakes proved to the casual fan what most gamblers realized years ago: There's no such thing as a sure thing. We may never know what caused Big Brown to run so poorly in the final leg of the Triple Crown, but that fiasco notwithstanding, there are still a couple of guarantees when it comes to Sunday's Haskell card at Monmouth Park. The late pick four will carry a guaranteed pool of $250,000, and the pool for the 50-cent pick five, comprising races 5-9, will offer a $50,000 guarantee. Since the Haskell is race 13 on the card, the pick five sequence does not include the Haskell, and that makes it the better bet of the two.

Big Brown is training superbly, races at a distance that's comfortable for him, has had time to recover from a strenuous Triple Crown run, and his hoof is not a major issue. None of that was true when he went into the starting gate in the Belmont Stakes. The Haskell is the first step in Big Brown regaining his lost stature, but this is no stepping-stone to another race, or an exhibition. Big Brown must run well here, and by all indications, he's going to do just that.

At Thursday's post position draw, Michael Iavarone, head of IEAH Stable, the colt's majority owner, said this of Big Brown: "If it's possible, he's training better than he did before he won the Kentucky Derby."

Given what transpired in the Belmont, in terms of trainer Rick Dutrow's prerace bluster and the embarrassing post-race aftermath, such a statement speaks volumes. While taking a shot against Big Brown in the Haskell and in multi-race wagering is certainly worthwhile as a saver, it's hard to come up with a legitimate pick four play where he's not a centerpiece of the ticket. There's not a compelling alternative in the race, at least not one who can be trusted as a stand-alone, and to use multiple horses in the Haskell means skimping on other competitive races.

Ceding the Haskell to Big Brown and constructing a ticket around him as the key is no bargain, either. That's likely to be the plan for most, and that virtually ruins the chances of getting value, since a win by Big Brown essentially makes the pick four a slightly spruced-up pick three. All in all, the 50-cent pick five seems like the better option, even if it does not include the day's main event.

The pick five begins with the Jersey Derby, which drew a competitive field. Mr Maccool (who was cross-entered in Saturday's Nick Shuk at Delaware Park), White Holiday, and Atwell seem most likely, since the race flow suggests closers will have the edge. In race 6, the Charles Hesse III Handicap, Luna Park, who turned things around suddenly two back with a narrow but impressive win over Meadow Blue, looks tough. Use both equally. The seventh, an allowance, features lots of pace and seems to set up beautifully for Big Jerome, and possibly Perusal, despite a layoff.

The fourth leg of the pick five is the Teddy Drone. Rockerfeller, who was a mere three lengths off Benny the Bull in the Smile Sprint Handicap at Calder last time, fits well. Also worth a look on back-up tickets are Maddy's Lion and Joey P., who finished one-two in the Mr. Prospector Stakes here last time, as well as Roi Maudit and Ah Day, both coming back from a break.

The Regret Stakes marks the final race of the pick five. My Sister Sue, hurt by a gate malfunction last time but a game second in the Blue Sparkler Stakes at Monmouth two back, should provide some value. Other horses to use include Dixie Dreamer, Solarana, and Hungarian Boatbaby.