12/02/2004 1:00AM

Cherokee Path likely overlay


NEW YORK - A million dollar race in December may seem odd, but we have one Saturday at slots-rich Delta Downs in the $1 million Delta Jackpot Stakes for 2-year-olds.

By contrast, the Hollywood Turf Cup at Hollywood Park, with Grade 1 status, is the race with the highest grading on Saturday's schedule, and yet it has a purse of "only" $250,000.

Saturday is also a big day at Calder Race Course, with its Grand Slam I card consisting of four $100,000 stakes, including the Tropical Turf and My Charmer handicaps, which are both Grade 3 events on the turf.

Here are my spotlight stakes, in order of preference:

Delta Jackpot

Cherokee Path comes off a strong victory last month at Churchill Downs that caught the eye for several reasons. For the first time in his three-race career, Cherokee Path settled off the early pace, doing so willingly behind fast fractions. He then made a big, four-wide move on the far turn, and drew away in the stretch in the manner of a colt looking for more distance. On top of that, his was a legitimately fast performance. He earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 94, which is tops in this field.

Cherokee Path has worked well since, and I like the fact that he has had two sprint races before attempting to stretch out in distance, which suggests that he has the required foundation of conditioning. Despite having the best Beyer in the race, Cherokee Path still should offer some betting value since all of his opponents have either won or finished second in a stakes, and this will be his stakes debut.

My Charmer Handicap

I'm going with Alchemist, who has suffered a lot of bad racing luck this year, but who found a favorable spot here.

It was a crime that Alchemist did not win at Saratoga three starts back, and she absolutely would have were it not for severe traffic trouble. She also had serious traffic trouble two starts back at Belmont, but managed to win. Last time out in the WinStar Galaxy, Alchemist faced much better than she meets Saturday. Also, a very slow pace compromised her closing style. Still, she was beaten only three lengths for it all.

Alchemist was beaten just a neck going 1 1/4 miles at Belmont last June, so handling this nine-furlong distance is not an issue. That is noteworthy since a couple of her principal opponents who both figure to be well bet, namely Changing World and Snowdrops, are question marks at the trip.

Queens County Handicap

It has been ages since Evening Attire was in as soft a spot on dirt as this one. But, with less than compelling performances in his last three starts, albeit two on turf, I can't take a short price on him here, although he certainly can win.

I will take Colita, who sports sharp efforts in four of his last five starts, including two wins and most recently a second to Classic Endeavor in the Stuyvesant Handicap. Classic Endeavor enjoyed an uncontested lead in that race, and considering how much he has improved since the Rick Dutrow claim, Colita did well to get to within 1 1/2 lengths of him. But there is more pace Saturday, thanks to Admiralty Arch and Private Lap, and Classic Endeavor may not be so fortunate this time. In fact, there may well be a contested pace, and Colita can fall into a perfect trip sitting just behind it.