01/25/2007 1:00AM

Battle of states can offer value


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Saturday's eight Sunshine Millions stakes races, pitting California-breds vs. Florida-breds at Gulfstream Park and Santa Anita, offer unique challenges for handicappers. Because some of the competitors in these races have not faced each other, or even raced over the host racetrack, these races are clouded by uncertainty. Unlike in a typical race, there are not nearly as many apples-to-apples comparisons of horse-A beating horse-B when racing three weeks ago at the same track.

Bettors must weigh the relative merits of horses that in some cases have never come within thousands of miles of one another, and try to forecast which horses they believe will move up under the conditions of the race. Call it right and a rewarding price could be the payoff.

Here is a look at three of the eight Sunshine Millions races, my selections, and what I consider to be playable odds on those runners.

Dash: A six-furlong race at Gulfstream for newly turned 3-year-olds, this race is loaded with speed. Several West Coast invaders appear very quick, including Texas Voyager, who won his only start with a 103 Beyer Speed Figure. He appears a candidate for regression, however, shipping across the country and racing back on two weeks' rest.

I favor a Florida-bred, but one that has yet to race in Florida. Leonardo, who won an entry-level allowance at Laurel Park by 10 3/4 lengths Dec. 6, is my top choice. Racing over three different racetracks, he is only a head away from being undefeated in three starts. Prior to his win at Laurel - a race in which he earned a 100 Beyer - he narrowly lost an allowance at Aqueduct Nov. 10, finishing second, beaten a head, after being trapped inside during the early part of the race. That race followed a dominant maiden win at Canterbury Park Sept. 3.

As he proved in his win at Laurel, he seems to be most effective when he is in the clear and able to make a long, sustained bid. Having Eclipse Award-winning rider Edgar Prado in the saddle is another plus. He merits support at odds of 7-2 or more.

Should he fall lower than that, the late-running Ididn'tdoanything could become an alternative play at odds in excess of 6-1.

Filly and Mare Turf: Memorette, who took the Grade 2 Beverly Hills Handicap at Hollywood Park last year, heads the California-bred contingent in this race at Gulfstream, but with a 4-for-23 record, she wins a little too infrequently for my taste. Bayou's Lassie, in contrast, has a history of getting her picture taken, having won 6 of 8 starts. She won three stakes at Calder Race Course last year, including the Frances A. Genter Stakes over J'ray, but because she is a 4-year-old, some might underestimate her since all three of her stakes wins last year came in races restricted to 3-year-old fillies.

Her record noted, I cannot accept too short of a price due to her never having raced outside Calder. I like her at odds of 7-2 or more, with Charmsil being attractive as an alternative at 9-2 or more.

Distaff: Take D' Tour was awesome winning the Stage Door Betty Handicap at Calder recently by 14 lengths and earning a career-best 110 Beyer, but will likely be overbet off that banner effort in this race at Santa Anita. Looking at her overall form, the question remains if she is consistently as good running two turns as she is racing one turn. At a skimpy price, I will take a stand against her.

Friel's for Real, who Overbrook Farm purchased for $550,000 as a racing or broodmare prospect at Keeneland's November sale, is an intriguing play. Now 7, she could have been retired by Overbrook to become a broodmare. Instead, the farm decided to keep her in training, sending her to trainer Todd Pletcher's operation. Saturday she starts for trainer Mike McCarthy, an assistant to Pletcher, who is serving a suspension for a medication violation.

Already a graded stakes-winning mare, Friel's for Real might rise to greater heights. Remember, Fleet Indian was bought by owner Paul Saylor out of the 2006 January sale at Keeneland for $290,000 and became an Eclipse Award winner under Pletcher's direction. It is unrealistic to expect Friel's for Real to do that well, but I am anticipating a top effort in the Sunshine Millions. She is playable at 4-1 odds or more.