04/12/2007 12:00AM

Bet offers value, but it's filled with danger


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - When all-stakes pick fours are offered nationally, they have been a consistent source of exceptional value the past several years. Making them a priority is a sensible strategy for weekend warriors who prefer to focus on the game's top-level runners, with the chance for a score built in.

Saturday's Premier Pick 4 consists of the Blue Grass and Commonwealth Breeders' Cup at Keeneland, and the Arkansas Derby and Instant Racing Breeders' Cup at Oaklawn Park.

In 2005, the same combination of races yielded Diboll Dolly ($11.60), Clock Stopper ($11.60), Bandini ($8), and Afleet Alex ($6.80). The $2 payoff of $2,532 was more than twice the win parlay.

Last year, the combo of Gasia ($10), Sun King ($16.40), Sinister Minister ($19.40), and Lawyer Ron ($3) was worth $3,062 for a deuce - nearly three times the win parlay - even with a universal single anchoring the play.

This year's sequence has a high degree of difficulty, and the fields are relatively big (10x12x7x10). It is a situation best suited to multiple tickets on which main contenders are covered more heavily than secondary ones. I'll rank my selections into "A," "B," and "C" categories.

Instant Racing BC

Get by the first leg and you'll be feeling pretty good, because on paper it's tough to feel confident about eliminating anyone in the race.

By the luck of the draw, the four who have earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 80 or better - New Edition, Angel Smoke, Cream Only, and Chatham - landed in the four outside posts, and must deal with a short run to the first turn. The best among them might be Angel Smoke, who has blossomed since stretching out. But she returns on relatively short rest on the heels of consecutive Beyer tops, and might lose ground early from post 8.

The other six are fairly close off their best figures in the mid-70s, including Nice Inheritance, a minor stakes winner on turf and dirt, and Wellofaprize, who makes her season debut with a trainer change to Todd Pletcher. (To see the potential explosiveness of a first-time Pletcher layoff horse, check out the past performances of Arkansas Derby entrant Deadly Dealer.)

A: Angel Smoke, Wellofaprize

B: Nice Inheritance, New Edition

C: Everyone else

Commonwealth BC

I'm going to focus on the California invaders Ramsgate and Midnight Lute. But needless to say, a long sprint on Polytrack packs a high level of volatility at this early stage of our experience with the space-age surface.

Ramsgate and Midnight Lute each ran third, beaten two lengths by Latent Heat, in stakes sprints at Santa Anita during the winter, so clearly there isn't much separating them.

Prior to the San Carlos, Ramsgate won three straight on Hollywood's Cushion Track; prior to the Malibu, Midnight Lute won the Perryville at Keeneland's first Polytrack meet last fall.

The "turf-to-synth" horses are Gin and Sin, Steel Light, Silent Name, and Lewis Michael, all of which are intriguing for various reasons.

A: Ramsgate, Midnight Lute

B: Gin and Sin, Steel Light, Silent Name, Lewis Michael

C: None

Blue Grass

Steve Schwartz, my old boss at the New York Racing Association back in the mid-1980s, had a saying that is apropos to the Blue Grass: "This race is fraught with danger."

Intent has to be the key issue with Street Sense and Great Hunter, as their connections look to fine-tune them for the Kentucky Derby. In a sign of the times, Street Sense and Great Hunter have started just once since the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, so it's guesswork trying to get a line on how they have developed.

Complicating matters is the presence of Teuflesberg, the potential main speed, who happens to be prone to severe trouble at the break.

Zanjero and Dominican appear to be headed the right way. Each has won on this synthetic surface, and neither is entirely implausible.

A: Street Sense, Great Hunter

B: Zanjero, Dominican

C: None

Arkansas Derby

If you're alive only with "A" horses for a cash-out, you'll be rooting that Curlin is indeed a freak. This exciting prospect thrashed several of these horses in the Rebel, despite numerous obstacles that stacked the deck against him, and his pattern of workouts is basically the same for this test.

If you've been right with enough "A" horses in the first three legs to afford some leeway, you'll feel safer having Deadly Dealer and For You Reppo as back-ups.

Deadly Dealer would have been an "A" had he drawn any kind of a decent post.

Prior to racing against a speed bias in the Lane's End, For You Reppo was a good second in a key-race allowance against Chelokee (third in the Florida Derby) and Sightseeing (a close second in the Wood).

A: Curlin

B: Deadly Dealer, For You Reppo

C: None