04/27/2010 12:00AM

Awesome Act, Mission Impazible to get nice setup

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With the defection of Eskendereya from the 136th running of the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, many horseplayers have been forced to reassess their approaches to the 1 1/4-mile race.

Last year, when the favorite I Want Revenge was scratched on the morning of the race, few had any reason to recompute the race in favor of longshot Mine That Bird. This year, we may be deprived of seeing a possible superstar perform on the Kentucky Derby stage, but we have ample time to reconsider our Derby plays.

The pace seems unchanged. We have ample horses with good early speed. Our first order of business, then, will be to decide if any of the speed brigade has the grit to survive a contested, faster-than-usual pace. Indeed, the pace may be much faster than usual, if the likes of Sidney's Candy, Discreetly Mine, and Super Saver fail to rate kindly behind Line of David and Conveyance, who are committed to go for the lead.

Next, we will have to figure out if Lookin At Lucky can get a safe trip this time or if Garrett Gomez will lose too much ground trying to keep him in the clear. Lookin At Lucky was steadied while saving ground on the far turn of the Santa Anita Derby.

Given the likely pace scenario and the similar abilities of so many contenders, I am leaning towards betting the tractable stretch-runner Awesome Act at 10-1 or better, while adding Mission Impazible as a co-win key in multiple-race exotics. Both horses have the right running style for this demanding race and both finished their most important workouts with good energy while also galloping out well. But in a complex race with so many likeable horses, I will also buy some savers on deep closer Ice Box and Lookin At Lucky, who earned positive but not perfect grades for their training moves.

In the trifectas and superfectas, I will separate these four horses into two tiers of win contenders at $2 and $1 multiples, respectively. I will use each tier on top of the other as well as Devil May Care, Discreetly Mine, and Super Saver, all of whom are trained by Todd Pletcher, and the other WinStar Farms horses not included in Pletcher's group, American Lion and Endorsement. I'll also find a way to add Jackson Bend and Paddy O'Prado on a back-up saver tickets given the positive way they have worked here.

This will lay out as 2x7x7 trifecta spreads for each tier, plus the deeper back-ups. If I am right, I believe the payoff will be substantial. If I am wrong, I expect to lose between $600 to $800 on the Derby, but would hope to have already won enough money from plays in the supporting stakes as indicated below:

* In the $100,000 Eight Belles, a Grade 3 at 7 1/2 furlongs for 3-year-old fillies, it is hard to go past ultra-fast Hot Dixie Chick, who will again meet Decelerator, who beat her when they both debuted in a five-furlong maiden race on a sloppy Churchill Downs track almost a year ago. While Decelerator has subsequently gone on to win several non-graded stakes, including the Instant Racing Stakes around two turns at one mile on the Arkansas Derby card, Hot Dixie Chick has won four straight races, trounced Decelerator in the Grade 2 Schuylerville at Saratoga, and has earned higher speed figures throughout her career. Coming back from injury, Hot Dixie Chick was a dominating winner in the Prima Donna, a six-furlong stakes at Oaklawn on April 2. That said, Decelerator should appreciate the elongated sprint distance, while Hot Dixie Chick will be trying to carry her speed farther than she has ever attempted.

* In the $250,000 Churchill Downs, a Grade 2 at seven furlongs for 4-year-olds and up, the top competitors include the improving Steve Margolis-trained Country Day; John Terranova's consistent Wall Street Wonder; Steve Asmussen's 2009 Jim Dandy Stakes winner Kensei; Bob Baffert's Western-based pair of Ventana and E Z's Gentleman; as well as Warrior's Reward and Musket Man, the dynamic one-two finishers in the Grade 1 Carter Handicap at Aqueduct last month. It also is possible that Todd Pletcher's Munnings, the beaten favorite in the Carter, will go in this spot.

While trainer Ian Wilkes has a strong winning history in one-turn races at 6 1/2 furlongs to one mile, I believe his Warrior's Reward was a bit lucky defeating Musket Man in the Carter and I will look for a reversal of that outcome in this race. Win or lose, I think Musket Man could become one of the top older horses of 2010.

* In the $200,000 Churchill Distaff Turf Mile, a Grade 2 for fillies and mares, the likely contenders are Tizaqueena and A She's Adorable, the one-two finishers in the March 26 Bayou Handicap at Fair Grounds; Keertana and Fantasia, the one-two finishers in a stakes-class allowance race at Keeneland on April 11; as well as Miss Keller, who also won a Keeneland turf race on April 7.

The Michael Stidham-trained Tizaqueena will take plenty beating at her favorite distance. She has won her only two starts this year, and won this stakes last year. I'll use her in exacta boxes with Keertana and Fantasia. If Pure Clan is in the field, I'll include her in the multi-race exotics.

* In the $300,000 Humana Distaff, a Grade 1 at seven furlongs for fillies and mares, all eyes will be on Informed Decision, the Eclipse Award-winning filly or mare sprinter of 2009 who was a nonthreatening third to front-running Dr. Zic in the seven-furlong Madison Stakes at Keeneland on April 8. That was only the second loss in eight career tries at seven furlongs for Informed Decision and her first race back since winning the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint at Santa Anita last fall.

Will Informed Decision use that race as a springboard to a repeat victory in this stakes? Or, will she fail to recover her championship form?

Dr. Zic is in this field, as is another speedy filly, the lightly raced Warbling, winner of the Grade 2 Inside Information at Gulfstream in her last outing. Both could combine to give Informed Decision the contested pace she needs to score. In either case, the steady Dubai's Majesty - second in the Madison - once again is a logical exacta threat.

* In the $500,000 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic, a Grade 1 at nine furlongs for 3-year-olds and up, Todd Pletcher has the late-developing deep closer Blues Street seeking his fifth straight victory and his third graded stakes. But Rick Dutrow's multiple Grade 1 winner Court Vision, third in this race last year and second in a pair of Grade 1's this year, is a major threat, as is solid turf pro Battle of Hastings.

I prefer Court Vision to win and will use Battle of Hastings as his primary exacta companion, while adding Blues Street to the second and third levels in a narrowly focused trifecta play.

Beyond these races, the Kentucky Oaks on Friday is a lead in to the annual Oaks-Derby Double, while the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic is part of a pick three with the Oaks and Kentucky Derby. In the Oaks, Jerry Hollendorfer's stretch-running Blind Luck is the horse to beat and I'll play her on 75 percent of my Oaks-Derby double tickets as well as the two-day pick three.