03/09/2007 12:00AM

Cash Included tempting play in Oaks

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PHOENIX - A horse like Rags to Riches, no doubt the overwhelming favorite for Sunday's Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks, presents a classic case of risk vs. reward for the player.

Rags to Riches won the Grade 1 Las Virgenes impressively, so taking a stand against her is spitting into the wind. The benefit of taking a shot against an overwhelming favorite is that - if you set up your bets the right way - you can lose only a little, and you give yourself a shot to win big.

Rags to Riches's presence creates potentially huge overlays, so if you can beat her you will be getting more than a fair return. That's good reason to look closer at the Santa Anita Oaks.

Knowing the risks and the potential benefits, I will take a look at Cash Included in the 1 1/16-mile event. It was just a few months ago she was one of the favorites for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. After her maiden win she romped in the Grade 1 Oak Leaf, a win that sent her to Churchill for the BC Juvenile Fillies as a solid second choice behind eventual winner Dreaming of Anna. Cash Included ran fifth that day without really mustering a run.

Trainer Doug O'Neill opted to regroup with Cash Included over the winter, and she resurfaced in the Las Virgenes at Santa Anita on Feb. 10. While Rags to Riches was making her winning move, Cash Included was making a threatening move of her own. She got up to be third, within 1o1/2 lengths of the lead turning for home, but couldn't sustain her run and ended up fourth, beaten 4 1/2 lengths.

Upon further inspection, that really wasn't a bad run for her first outing in three months. She has proceeded to work well, and best of all may be the overlay considering how the money figures to pour in on Rags to Riches.

If you would have made a line on this race a month ago, Cash Included would likely have been second choice at about 3-1. She may still be second choice, but now it wouldn't be a surprise if she's 6-1, and that's a price worth playing.

They don't come much faster

He wasn't the best sprinter ever but he was still one of my favorites. There have only been a handful of horses quicker away from the barrier than Olympic Prospect. The big chestnut gelding had to be euthanized a few weeks ago at age 23 due to complications of age and severe arthritis.

Under the guidance of trainer John Sadler, Olympic Prospect went from being claimed for $50,000 out of a maiden claiming race at Santa Anita to become a multiple graded stakes winner of 14 races and more than $725,000. At age 7, he began a well-earned retirement at Kevin and Brooke Bayerlein's ranch in Alpine, Calif., where he remained until his death.

He could have had his crowning achievement in the 1988 Breeders' Cup Sprint but, alas, he ran into one of the other quickest horses I have ever seen, Very Subtle. The two ran each other into the ground to set up things perfectly for winner Gulch. Very Subtle faltered to fourth, Olympic Prospect to seventh, but that didn't matter to me. Olympic Prospect wasn't going to change for anyone. It was go all-out and let the chips fall where they may. He was, in a sense, racing in its purest form.

What have you done lately?

Just as I was surprised at all the enthusiasm for Nobiz Like Shobiz at the start of the year, I'm equally surprised that some are treating him like yesterday's news after his loss in the Fountain of Youth.

Hey, they all lose, and it's not like he ran seventh, beaten 10 lengths. He showed some chinks in the armor, but he lost by only a half-length, which is hardly a reason to dismiss his Kentucky Derby chances.

For many, ranking Derby contenders turns into an exercise in flavor of the week. If you feel Nobiz Like Shobiz is the top Derby contender (and I admit, I am not in that group) then nothing that happened should have you suddenly deeming him the No. 5 contender. It may shake your confidence a bit but stick to your guns.