01/07/2007 12:00AM

Conja's hidden class sets up value play


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Conja lacks the flashy figures of some of her six opponents in Saturday's Marshua Stakes at Laurel Park. Her race record does not leap off the page, either, comprising a win and three thirds in four starts.

That is just as well with me. The fact that she is neither particularly fast nor a winning machine will only help her value - a key in a short field that will not offer any mouth-watering prices.

What I like about Conja is that she has hidden class. In finishing third a couple times in allowances at Woodbine in November, she ran good races against underrated allowance competition.

Last year's 2-year-old fillies in Canada were a good lot, and at least several were purchased there by American connections with deep pockets. Conja was not one of those fillies - she has been owned by Zayat Stables since her first start - but in my eyes, a third in allowance company up there carries weight.

They offer big bucks at Woodbine, and good money draws good barns and good horses. Entry-level allowances up there are run for about a $64,000 pot in Canadian funds, the equivalent of more than $54,000 in U.S. dollars.

Compare that with the purse for a first-level allowance at Laurel Park - $32,000 - and the difference is obvious.

Yet in the minds of many U.S. horseplayers, the Laurel race is believed to offer comparable quality. I don't see it that way.

I think Conja can take a step forward against Maryland opposition Saturday, building upon her already useful Canadian form. Additionally, she should be able to benefit from what should be a lively, contested pace in front of her.

The Marshua, at 5 1/2 furlongs, drew a good amount of speed - which sets up the rally of Conja, who seems at her best when closing in short sprints. Her only victory came going five furlongs in October.

As for adapting to dirt racing - all of her starts have been on Woodbine's synthetic Polytrack surface - she has the bloodlines to handle it. She is a 3-year-old daughter of crack dirt sprinter Cherokee Run.

Turfway Prevue: Key Joe Got Even in exotics

Three-year-olds are also featured at Turfway Park on Saturday, although the focus there is on the boys. In the Turfway Prevue, Joe Got Even is the likely favorite, and appears rock solid.

He is a good horse to key in the exotics for clear reasons. He is fast, first and foremost. And he is also classy and proven racing over Polytrack.

A son of Stephen Got Even, he won a maiden race and a first-level allowance easily at Turfway and Keeneland before finishing fifth in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes behind the winning Tiz Wonderful.

He also benefits from the services of Miguel Mena, who ran away with the holiday meet riding title at Turfway by booting home 42 winners.

Contention runs deep behind Joe Got Even, with many of his 10 opponents appearing similar on paper. Most come off a maiden or first-level allowance win.

Mr. Prospector: Weigelia sharp now

After a couple ordinary cards to begin its new meet, Gulfstream offers some quality racing on Saturday. Three stakes headline the card.

The first, the Mr. Prospector, features the return of Kelly's Landing, who won the Grade 3 Phoenix Handicap in October before running 10th behind winner Thor's Echo in the Breeders' Cup Sprint.

He is the proven class, but is also a horse that lugs in occasionally and seems most comfortable with inside trips. Stuck on the outside in an eight-horse field, he took the worst of the draw.

My choice is Weigelia, who won the Grade 3 Kenny Noe Handicap at Calder Dec 16. Although that race was run in the slop, I doubt the off track moved him up. He won because of how sharp he is, not because of wetness in the surface.

Prior to that win, Weigelia's efforts over sloppy tracks resulted in a pair of thirds and a fourth-place finish.

His Kenny Noe Handicap win came at seven furlongs, but he is much more experienced running shorter distances. He has won 6 of 15 starts at six furlongs, the distance of the Mr. Prospector.

Weigelia is trained by Michael Trombetta, who also starts Sweetnorthernsaint later on Gulfstream's card in the Hal's Hope Handicap.