05/22/2002 11:00PM

Bettable longshots in weekend stakes


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - If more than six runners had entered the Milady Handicap on Saturday at Hollywood Park the improving filly Cashmina might have been the best gamble of the Memorial Day weekend.

Unfortunately, the six-horse field negates most of Cashmina's wagering value. That's the trouble with short fields. Middle-odds contenders that often "get lost" in large fields are less likely to be overlooked in a field with only a half-dozen entrants.

Besides, Cashmina is anything but a sure thing against two of the country's best older fillies - Azeri and Affluent. Those two will dominate the attention, while Cashmina tries to sneak under the radar and post an upset in the first major stakes of Hollywood's spring-summer meet. The Milady is a race Cashmina can win.

The improving speed figures earned by Cashmina in her only routes (an 87 Beyer Speed Figure, followed by a 95) show one side of her improving pattern. Yet speed figures tell only part of the story. In fact, it is her improving pace figures that are most revealing, and hint that this lightly raced filly has the potential to become a major force this season.

Unseasoned horses frequently sink when they face a severe pace for the first time. Not Cashmina. When she stepped up in class March 31, following a modest allowance victory, she had every right to tire after setting a sizzling pace. Compare her six-furlong fractions - 1:11.50 in the allowance, a testing 1:10.35 in the stakes. From 69 races at 1 1/16 miles this winter at Santa Anita, the 1:10.35 split was the fifth-fastest. The Quirin-style pace figure (generated by Tom Brohamer) earned by Cashmina places her among the elite of her division.

Of course, elevated pace figures are less relevant if accompanied by a corresponding decrease in final time (i.e., speed figure). That's what makes Cashmina's second-place finish March 31 so extraordinary. Despite the brutal pace, she actually improved her speed figure - eight points on the Beyer scale - in only her fourth career start.

That race was seven weeks ago, so the question Saturday is condition. There are no worries. During the time off, Cashmina has added weight, trained super, and grown stronger. She enters the Milady as the most rapidly improving filly in the race. That does not mean she will win - Grade 1 winners Azeri and Affluent are deserving favorites. However, if Cashmina continues her upward pattern, trainer John Shirreffs and owners Jerry and Ann Moss may be unveiling the game's next female star.

From a wagering perspective, Cashmina will start in the middle-odds range. She is no great secret, and still must defeat Azeri and Affluent. However, if Cashmina starts at 6-1 or higher, she might be the best gamble on the Saturday card.

Casey Griffin is Shoemaker overlay

The overlay possibilities are greater in the Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile on Monday. While the size of the field, expected to be about eight runners, unfortunately depresses the odds on all the starters, at least one starter is likely to be overlooked - longshot Casey Griffin, who may not win but will surely be worth gambling on.

One of the more creative wagering angles is to back horses with a history of out-running their odds. These type horses slip in and out of form without notice, usually leaving "form handicappers" a race behind. Casey Griffin is that type, running in a Shoemaker field that lacks a standout. Win or lose, Casey Griffin is likely to outrun his double-digit odds. It's something he has been doing since his winning debut July 29, 1999, at Del Mar, a maiden-claiming sprint in which he paid $49.

Casey Griffin has won 5 of 22 starts. His winning mutuels: $49, $7, $18, $11.60, and $34.80, good for a career ROI (based on a $2 win wager) of $5.47. The hindsight handicapping is relevant to the Shoemaker, because Casey Griffin enters in top form, and with a valid excuse for his last start.

A late-running gray, he runs best outside horses, but in a downhill sprint at Santa Anita he got stuck inside horses, ran into a roadblock nearing the furlong pole, and was unable to recover. The one-two finishers in the race were positioned two-one through the race, so the "shape" of the race worked against Casey Griffin. He finished well, making up six lengths in the final furlong to finish fourth. Casey Griffin is not the most likely winner of the Shoemaker, but is the most likely overlay.

Old Money upset shot in Gamely

Another longshot worth considering starts Monday in the Grade 1 Gamely. She is Old Money, victim of an impossible trip April 20 in the Santa Barbara Handicap. Wide every step in the paceless race, Old Money beat one horse, finishing seven lengths behind winner Astra. It was a dull effort, exacerbated by unfortunate strategy. Good thing for bettors, the performance will inflate her odds.

Old Money has been working sensationally since her last start, and will be reunited with Eddie Delahoussaye, who rode her to victory in her U.S. debut Jan. 16. For the first time in three U.S. starts, Old Money will be higher than 9-2. Although the tough Gamely field includes Astra, Starine, Voodoo Dancer, and Snow Dance, Old Money is a better filly than her expected odds of 10-1 or higher.