03/20/2003 12:00AM

Champali, substance over glitz

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Picking the best horse in Saturday's Lane's End Stakes at Turfway Park isn't difficult. Picking the best wager - that's an entirely different matter.

Lion Tamer, a six-length winner of the Grade 2 Hutcheson Stakes, has been brilliant in four starts and appears destined to become a top 3-year-old. But he has not run beyond seven furlongs, which would seemingly put him at a disadvantage in the 1 1/8-mile Lane's End.

As much as I believe he is a special horse, I am less than enthused about the prospect of wagering on him at odds of around even money Saturday. That is a short price to accept given the uncertainty at the distance.

If he is overbet, who offers value?

Eugene's Third Son, a lightly raced Gulfstream Park invader? Not likely. He will be ridden by Pat Day, a five-time winner of this race, and Day's legions of Kentucky faithful will be eager to wager on him.

What about Saintly Look, a dual stakes winner at Fair Grounds? He is somewhat appealing, but he was manhandled by the best 3-year-olds in New Orleans in the Risen Star Stakes.

Those two horses, as well as every horse in the field, have weaknesses. Therefore the inclination is to go for a Lion Tamer knockout with Champali - provided he goes off at odds of 9-2 or more.

I'm not entirely convinced that price is possible. If he goes off at his morning line odds of 7-2, I'm content to pass the race.

But Champali may get overlooked in the betting. For starters, few think he is legitimate. He has beaten suspect competition all winter at Turfway, like former claimer Chicken Soup Kid, who will be 30-1 to win the Lane's End.

Second, he is by Glitterman - a sire known for producing far more sprinters and milers than 1 1/8-mile runners. For every Balto Star, a son of Glitterman who won this race, there are many others that falter when racing 1 1/8 miles.

Finally, he does not have a trainer and rider who have been regular players with Kentucky Derby-caliber stock.

What he does have is a trainer, Greg Foley, who has won with 38 percent of his starters this year. Additionally, rider Jason Lumpkins is ranked second nationally this year in races won behind northern California kingpin Russell Baze.

Champali is also a horse who loves to win. He has won six times in seven starts, and only once was he favored.

I'm optimistic he is capable of running faster than his recent times and Beyer Speed Figures suggest. When he won the John Battaglia Stakes earlier this month, he raced four wide into the first turn and showed the versatility to handle a muddy track that disagreed with many runners.

He also won despite loafing through the stretch. He relaxed when he made the lead into the lane, but surged forward when challenged in midstretch.

Granted, it's easy to look good against suspect opposition. It's much harder to win with style against good foes, as Lion Tamer did in Florida.

Even before Lion Tamer won the Hutcheson, he signaled he was a classy horse. After breaking poorly in an entry-level allowance race earlier in the Gulfstream Park meet, he recovered rapidly, going from last to first with an eye-catching move.

Champali isn't as flashy, but he has a way of outperforming the public's expectations. That trend should continue in the Lane's End.