06/15/2008 11:00PM

Brass Hat value play versus Curlin


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - When Curlin steps on the track for Saturday's Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs, I will look upon him with admiration, for his having won 8 of 11 starts and over $8.8 million, capped by victories the Preakness, Jockey Club Gold Cup, Breeders' Cup Classic, and Dubai World Cup.

Then, after a moment of reflection, I'll go to the betting window and wager against him.

Despite Curlin being the best dirt horse in the world, logic dictates to take a stand against a short-priced favorite carrying 128 pounds who is returning from a layoff following a trip to Dubai. The 10 to 15 pounds he spots each other runner in the Foster could prove to be too much to overcome, as could the time off.

My choice is 8-1 Brass Hat, who has not won in six starts since winning the Massachusetts Handicap last year, but who looks poised for a breakout race in the Foster. He has been an unlucky recipient of wide trips over much that stretch, and last time, when fourth in the Louisville Handicap, he simply was left with too much to do when reserved 10 lengths off dawdling splits.

Returned to his best surface, dirt, and to a Churchill Downs main track that he likes, he is a potentially rewarding play, particularly given that he is in receipt of 12 pounds from Curlin.

Keep in mind that in his last two starts at Churchill Downs, he set a track record in July in winning a 1o1/16-mile allowance in 1:41.27 against the eventual Pacific Classic and Pimlico Special winner Student Council, then ran a close second in a Clark Handicap last fall despite a four-wide trip virtually from start to finish.

He is poorly drawn in post 10 for the Foster, but you can be sure his rail-hugging rider, Calvin Borel, will do his best to save some ground with Brass Hat.

I'm also intrigued, largely as a price stab, by longshot Barcola, who, despite having early speed and lofty Beyer Speed Figures might be overlooked by the betting public. With four of his five triple-digit Beyers coming at Delaware Park, my guess is that bettors might simply view him as a horse fond of that surface, but incapable of running as fast elsewhere.

If he sticks to his 20-1 morning line, taking the opposite view - that he could potentially transfer his form to Churchill - could be a gamble worth taking.

As for Curlin, the Foster represents an opportunity for him to illustrate his greatness, just as his triumphs in the Breeders' Cup Classic and Dubai Word Cup did. If he can win off the bench in Grade 1 company spotting significant weight, he further merits being considered among the greats of the last couple decades.

Clearly Foxy can handle class rise

Earlier on the Stephen Foster card, Clearly Foxy looks attractive at a price in the Grade 3 Regret.

Slow to get going to begin her 3-year-old year, she woke up in her latest start, finishing full of run from behind a slow pace to win a second-level allowance over C J's Leelee. Granted, Clearly Foxy caught C J's Leelee returning from a layoff, but the way she flew home caught the eye.

Apparently not just my eye, either - Overbrook Farm bought the filly privately from Charles Laloggia following the race.

She faces a deeper group in here that includes Pure Clan, who comes off a third in the Kentucky Oaks. But I suspect Pure Clan will be overbet, with big names like Proud Spell and the late Eight Belles leaping out of the company lines of her past performances.

Clearly Foxy, winner of the Gradeo3 Natalma last September at Woodbine, looks like a major factor at a square price.

Mama I'm Home live at a price

Dreaming of Anna, the champion 2-year-old filly of 2006 and now a top-class turf mare, stands out on class in the final stakes on the Saturday card at Churchill, the Grade 3 Mint Julep, but there is simply no value in backing her to win. She is even-money on the morning line and quite likely to drop lower by post time.

The value play of the race is Mama I'm Home, who had one of the worst trips imaginable in finishing ninth, beaten 3 1/2 lengths in the Reluctant Guest Stakes at Arlington May 17. Blocked in traffic behind a slow pace, jockey Jose Velez was never able to secure a clear path in the stretch and had to keep her under stout restraint through the entire stretch or risk having her run onto of the heels of those in front of her.

Prior to that race, Mama I'm Home was a striking winner of an allowance race at Keeneland, defeating Ballymore Lady, a next-out winner and another Mint Julep starter.

Mama I'm Home seems to be flourishing for trainer Steve Margolis, who bought her privately for owner Gold Square earlier in the year.

I'll play her to win, and use her in an exacta box with the heavily favored Dreaming of Anna.