03/15/2009 11:00PM

Big A 3-year-olds posting big numbers


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - No one will ever confuse winter at Aqueduct with the more glamorous race meets on the calendar, but some of the nation's fastest 3-year-olds have been heating up the inner dirt recently.

In the aftermath of last weekend's Kentucky Derby preps, I Want Revenge's tour de force run in the Gotham, which earned a 113 Beyer Speed Figure, remained the fastest two-turn performance by a 3-year-old.

In Saturday's Grade 3 Cicada Stakes, Heart Ashley shipped in from Fair Grounds for Zayat Stables to wire the field and record a 104 Beyer, the highest figure of any 3-year-old filly in a stakes and second overall in the division to Elusive Heat's 108 in a Gulfstream Park allowance.

"She came out of the race in good order," said Toby Sheets, who oversees the New York string for trainer Steve Asmussen. "We'll take a wait-and-see approach before determining her next start."

The one-mile Comely, a $150,000 Grade 2 race on the main track Aprilo11, is the next graded stakes for the division locally.

Pick-four handle declines

For the fifth time in as many weeks since it was introduced, Saturday's late pick-four pool surpassed the $250,000 guarantee, but handle was down from the four previous weeks.

After topping out with a pool of $418,226 on Gotham Day, Saturday's handle fell to $302,248 - well below the previous low of $339,364 the first time the guarantee was offered on Feb.o14.

Heart Ashley's upset over 3-4 favorite Dream Play helped produce a $2 pick-four payoff of $1,222, marking the fifth straight four-figure payoff.

Kempton wagering available

Aqueduct will offer full-card wagering on Wednesday's six races from Kempton Park in England, highlighted by the first running of the $115,000 Kentucky Derby Challenge Stakes.

Run clockwise over a Polytrack surface installed in 2006, the 1 1/8-mile Challenge Stakes offers the winner a guaranteed starting berth in the May 2 Kentucky Derby.

Post time for the Challenge Stakes is 3:50 p.m. Eastern. Mark Johnson, recently named Churchill Downs's announcer after a competition with several other race-callers last fall, will be at the microphone.

First post is 2:50 p.m. Eastern.

Allowances top Wednesday card

As for the live action, the two route races on Wednesday's program are the main attractions.

In race 3, a $45,000 starter handicap at a mile and 70 yards, Reptilian Smarts will put his perfect 4-for-4 record at the meet on the line against five rivals. Unbeaten since being claimed by Rick Dutrow, Reptilian Smarts will shoulder top weight of 124 pounds and give away two to nine pounds to Coyoteshighestcall, More Than a Reason, Pluracity, Prince of Iron, and Rises the Phoenix.

Rises the Phoenix, 8, makes his second start back from a layoff for trainer Dan Conway Jr. - whose six winners at the meet include five at double-digit mutuels - after a wide middle move for $35,000.

"I didn't want to risk him again," Conway said. "Guys like me at Finger Lakes don't get too many like him."

Conway has trained Rises the Phoenix for 35 of his 38 starts, including two wins on the inner track in 2005 and two more last winter, at odds of 12-1 and 10-1.

In race 8, a $48,000 optional claimer at one mile for older fillies and mares, the one to catch and beat may be Sunday Geisha. She must overcome the outside post in a field of eight, but her trainer, Bruce Levine, is fresh off a four-win weekend.

Fort Carillon, Jessica Is Back, and Say Toba Sandy all come off victories in what shapes up as a competitive event.