08/23/2005 12:00AM

Big fields present hard choices

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CHICAGO - The Summer Festival of Racing with its modestly higher purses has ended, Arlington Million Day has passed, and the meet is supposed to be waning. But entries this week have been strong, and horseplayers clamoring for full, bettable fields are advised to tune into Arlington Park on Thursday.

Excluding also-eligibles, 82 horses were entered on the nine-race card, including three races with 12-horse fields. The late pick four has three 12-horse fields and a nine-horse field, and if betting value can't worm its way out of this sequence, it might not even exist anymore.

Hitting the late pick four is going to require prescient handicapping, net throwing, or a combination of the two. Race 6 drew 12 2-year-old maidens of the $25,000 claiming variety, and the winner could come from anywhere. Maiden special weight dropper Hopple might be hard-pressed to stay the six furlongs of the race. Steve Asmussen entered two - one who has started once, the other making his debut. And there is a first-timer from the Larry Rivelli barn, Big Daddy Catty, who may bear watching.

Race 7 is the Thursday feature, a second-level allowance at 1 1/8 miles on turf. Things are little easier here. The mild pick is Bavarian Baron, who won an entry-level allowance race at this distance just two starts ago, and might have been compromised by a wide draw when he finished a close sixth last time out in his first try at this class level. Return rivals Bellator and Cowboy Code finished in front of Bavarian Baron in that July 31 race, but he might turn the tables Thursday. Also worth using are the comeback horse Gold Hornet - owner Louie Roussel is in town, and surely would prefer to see a winner sooner rather than later - and perhaps even Public Official, drawn outside but just one race removed from a contending effort at long odds.

The eighth is a crapshoot of an entry-level allowance with a $50,000 claiming option. Liveinthepresent could dictate the pace from the rail, but might not be good enough to make an early lead stick.

Roseal is on more solid ground in the ninth, a $30,000 nonwinners-of-two grass claimer. Third three straight times in Illinois-bred entry-level allowance races, Roseal shortens up to a more favorable distance. Though there is one major caveat: In 11 starts, Roseal has seven places and shows to only one win.

Full and bettable fields, yes; easy pickings, not so much.