12/06/2007 1:00AM

Buzzards Bay legit, especially at a price

EmailLOUISVILLE, Ky. - Over the last six months, millionaire Buzzards Bay's form and speed figures have been more volatile than the stock market. Up one day, crashing the next.

This June, observers were understandably bullish when he won the Californian Handicap with a Beyer Speed Figure of 100, but then just a month later, he disappointed in the San Diego Handicap at Del Mar with an eighth-place finish and a Beyer Figure of 78. Then in two subsequent starts, he rebounded at Santa Anita with an Oct. 19 allowance victory and 96 Beyer, only to regress most recently with a seventh-place finish in the Nov. 17 All American at Golden Gate, a race that earned him an 87 Beyer.

My guess is that this inconsistency will cause horseplayers to balk at the prospect of backing him in Saturday's Grade 3 Native Diver Handicap at Hollywood Park, particularly with the talented Ravel in the field. But at a square price, I view him as a sound play.

I simply do not view his seventh in the All American at Golden Gate as reflective of his current form and ability.

Perhaps it was his unfamiliarity with the synthetic Tapeta surface at Golden Gate. Although the surface has been well-received, most observers agree that synthetic surfaces differ from one brand to another.

Buzzards Bay has been more effective racing over Cushion Track, in use at Hollywood Park, than he has over Polytrack, in place at Del Mar, and the Tapeta at Golden Gate. He is 2 for 3 racing over Cushion Track, having won the Californian over Hollywood's surface and an allowance over the Cushion Track at Santa Anita during the Oak Tree meeting.

I am similarly encouraged that trainer Ron Ellis is bringing him back in this stakes race despite the poor recent showing. With a horse who has had his share of layoffs in recent years, the conservative option would have been to regroup with time off or with a class drop into an allowance.

His presence in the stakes race suggests he is doing well, as does a bullet five-furlong work in 58.20 seconds Dec. 2 at Hollywood Park, the track where he regularly trains.

He cannot afford to deliver anything less than his "A" race if he is to beat Ravel, Arson Squad, Isipingo, and Racketeer in the Native Diver, but the circumstances look right for him to produce a top effort.

Southern Invasion can turn tables

Costa Rising, one of the best Louisiana-breds in recent years, is the class of Saturday's featured Louisiana Champions Day Classic at Fair Grounds. But betting him at 2-5 or 3-5 when he carries 124 pounds in a 1 1/8-mile race offers more risk than reward.

As an alternative I'll play Southern Invasion, the runner-up to Costa Rising in the Gold Cup at Delta Downs on Nov. 17. Although beaten 2 1/2 lengths by Costa Rising that evening, he showed fight in the stretch to hold the runner-up position.

Head to head with Costa Rising early, he was put away by that rival on the turn and seemed likely to lose by five or more lengths as the field left the final turn. But rather than get discouraged by Costa Rising passing him, he was slowly cutting into Costa Rising's lead in the final furlong, while fending off late bids from other runners.

Southern Invasion is not nearly as accomplished as Costa Rising, nor does he appear anywhere near as fast when their top figures are compared, but he is an honest horse with a record of 5 wins, a second, and a third in 7 starts.

If Costa Rising struggles Saturday because of the weight, Southern Invasion looks like the horse most likely to capitalize.

Half Heaven looks like a natural

Half Heaven is 4 for 5 over Polytrack, a record that includes three stakes victories at Turfway Park.

Yet her presence in Saturday's $50,000 My Charmer at Turfway Park did little to scare away the opposition. The race drew a full field of 12, plus two also-eligibles, and another six fillies and mares were excluded when the race overfilled.

Despite the depth of the field, Half Heaven appears rock-solid. Purchased for $180,000 at Fasig-Tipton's November sale in 2006, she has since won nearly $160,000 in purse money in nine subsequent starts for her current connections, owner Stronach Stable and trainer Dale Romans.

A Regal Classic mare who runs well fresh, she can be expected to move forward off a recent fifth-place finish in the Ticonderoga Handicap at Belmont on Oct. 20. That day she caught a soft course, and she has always been a horse who performs best over firm or fast going.

She can work out a favorable stalking trip under Dean Sarvis and improve upon her already impressive Polytrack record.