06/28/2007 12:00AM

Beat the favorites in three big races


NEW YORK - Hollywood Park and Belmont Park share the spotlight Saturday as five stakes, three of them Grade 1, will be run at the two tracks. The Grade 1, $750,000 Hollywood Gold Cup is the richest race in the nation, and heads a stakes tripleheader at Hollywood, while Belmont has a Grade 1 stakes doubleheader with the $400,000 Suburban Handicap and the $250,000 Mother Goose Stakes. There are also two rich races in the middle of the country - the $300,000 Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Breeders' Cup Handicap, and the $250,000 Firecracker Handicap at Churchill Downs.

Prairie Meadows Cornhusker BC Handicap

Patriot Act and Silent Pleasure figure to be the first two choices in the betting, but neither looks imposing enough to dissuade anyone from taking a stand against them. Patriot Act is coming off a big win in a prep over the track, and he might be much improved. But that race was much faster in terms of Beyer Speed Figures than anything he had done in his first 17 starts, so I'm not buying into him just yet. As for Silent Pleasure, he is going for his sixth win from his last seven starts. But most of those wins came in weaker company, and he is at risk of being pressured early by Jonesboro.

I like Dry Martini, who is the most consistently fast horse in the race on the basis of five straight triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures earned in Florida last fall and winter. And even though his triple-digit Beyer streak came to an end last time out when he won the Memorial Day Handicap at Calder, he did earn a 97 off nearly a three-month layoff, so the potential for improvement is certainly there. Dry Martini showed he can be competitive with good company when a close fourth in the Sunshine Millions Classic last January, and now he makes his first start for trainer Barclay Tagg, who boasts a return on investment of $4.59 with newcomers to his barn.

Firecracker Handicap

Perhaps I'm being too forgiving of a horse who ran poorly last time out when I liked him, but what the heck. I'm taking a shot here with Free Thinking, whose odds might be in the range of 20-1.

Free Thinking was a soundly beaten fourth most recently in the Opening Verse Handicap after setting trotting horse-like fractions. But I believe he does not like setting the pace, and is most effective when he stalks or closes. That's the style he used last year when he was a narrowly beaten second in the Kelso Breeders' Cup Handicap to Ashkal Way, who went on to win the Grade 1 Citation, and when he was second in this race to Miesque's Approval, who went on to win the Breeders' Cup Mile and be voted champion turf male of 2006. Moreover, the favorites Free Thinking will deal with, Brilliant and Remarkable News, don't look unbeatable. Brilliant's two best races, a win in last year's Kent Breeders' Cup and a near-miss last time out in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic, both came over the kind of off turf course he won't get Saturday. And Remarkable News was lucky to win the Dixie most recently, as he struggled to hold on after inheriting a huge lead when the pacesetter broke down.

American Invitational Handicap

I take no pleasure picking against The Tin Man. He is a terrific story, returning recently to win a Grade 1 in his first start at age 9. But he operates best close to the pace, and I sense that between Willow O Wisp, Lang Field, and maybe even Becrux, the pace here will hurt the chances of those involved in it.

In search of a closer, I'm going with Right Special. Right Special finished very well late when a close fifth to The Tin Man in the Shoemaker Mile last time out after showing a good late kick to win his U.S. debut two starts back. With the added distance Saturday and the right pace setup, Right Special can get up late and post an upset.