08/24/2005 11:00PM

Chalk looks tasty in pick four

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Saratoga is guaranteeing a $1 million pool for the all-stakes pick four here Saturday linking the Fourstardave, the Hopeful, the King's Bishop, and the Travers. There's no question the pool will soar well past that amount for the parade of stars in that two hours of all-star sport, but there's no guarantee that the payoff's going to be more than about $24.60.

How are you going to beat Leroidesanimaux in the Fourstar-dave, Henny Hughes in the Hopeful, Lost in the Fog in the King's Bishop, and the three favorites - Bellamy Road, Flower Alley, and Roman Ruler - in the Travers? The more you look at it, maybe $24.60 for a $6 investment on that combo wouldn't be so bad.

It will take an extraordinary combination of cleverness, contrarianism, and luck to escape the seeming inevitability of such a chalky outcome. While Saturday's favorites all have a little something to prove, they are all wonderfully consistent and talented championship contenders to whom there are few reasonable alternatives.

Leroidesanimaux is unfamiliar to most New Yorkers, having done all his previous racing in Rio de Janeiro and Los Angeles, but for the last year he has quietly been the best middle-distance grass horse in the country, winning the Inglewood, Morvich, Citation, and Kilroe in succession. He earned Beyers of 111 or 112 in all four races, and no other turf horse in the country has exceeded a 110 this year.

The knocks are that he hasn't been out since winning the Kilroe on March 5, and that he has raced on somewhat harder courses than the one he'll be getting at Saratoga. Nor are Silver Tree, Senor Swinger, and America Alive, all graded winners, a bunch of pushovers. If the real Leroy shows up, though, he's supposed to win.

So is Henny Hughes, who is 3 for 3 by a combined 24 3/4 lengths, including a good-looking triumph over the track in the Saratoga Special on July 28, when he ran six furlongs in 1:10.38. First Samurai, his only real competition in the Hopeful field of five, ran six furlongs a nostril faster when he won an Aug. 7 allowance race in 1:10.36, but that came over what seemed like a quicker track, and Henny Hughes finished up faster while under apparently less pressure. You could use them both if you're trying to get that pick four to pay $54 instead of $24.

A lot of smart alecks have been waiting and waiting to take a shot against undefeated Lost in the Fog, an admirable and nifty colt who has yet to meet a really top-class sprinter. The King's Bishop, however, does not appear to have an opponent of that caliber. Santana Strings and The Daddy have each earned a Beyer of 100 once, but all eight of Lost in the Fog's races are better than that. If you want to beat him it will have to be because he has been training in a bar shoe, but his connections say he's in perfect shape now.

Which brings us to the Travers, which went from being a mere Dwyer rematch to a truly fascinating event with the addition of Bellamy Road to the field. Bellamy Road ran one of the most amazing Derby preps ever when he won the Wood Memorial by 17 1/2 lengths in 1:47.16, wilted to finish seventh at Churchill Downs, and has not raced since. His mere presence in a Grade 1 stakes at 1 1/4 miles off a 16-week break is heretical, the equivalent of running a horse in the Kentucky Derby without a race since early January.

The obvious analogy is that trainer Nick Zito sort of did this last year, winning the Travers with Birdstone off a 12-week break, but Birdstone was a very different kind of horse, a one-paced closer less likely to feel fatigue after the opening mile, and an attractive overlay at 4-1. At 2-1 or less, Bellamy Road is a shakier proposition.

Zito spent much of the meeting debating himself over whether to bring Bellamy Road back in the Travers or the King's Bishop. His ultimate decision says as much about his opinion of the Travers field as it does about his confidence in his own colt. Had a healthy Afleet Alex made the Travers, we would be debating Bellamy Road vs. Lost in the Fog at seven furlongs. The more Zito looked at the Travers, though, the more Bellamy Road looked like the lone speed and the less the rest looked like world-beaters. Why not take a shot?

Make no mistake, it's a shot. No one will be shocked if Bellamy Road wins off by himself or stops badly. If it's the latter, Flower Alley and Roman Ruler look clearly better than the rest.

If you can get alive to all three of them for $6 in the wake of Leroy, Henny, and Lost, there's nothing wrong with sitting back and enjoying such an intriguing matchup unfold while quadrupling your money.