07/12/2006 11:00PM

Defection opens shot at price play

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - When the connections of Showing Up announced that he would skip the Virginia Derby on Saturday rather than run on three weeks' rest, Colonial Downs lost the opportunity to see a horse try to win its multimillion-dollar bonus for the Grand Slam of Grass racing series.

No one should be shedding tears. Without Showing Up, the winner of the 1 3/16-mile Colonial Turf Cup, Saturday's $1 million Virginia Derby at Colonial Downs is ultra-competitive, with probably eight or nine of the 12 entrants having a legitimate shot at victory.

The depth and talent of the field make it a fantastic betting race, one in which it is difficult to determine the favorite, much less the winner. The competitiveness of the field left me searching for a price horse; I settled on Roman Dynasty, who is 12-1 on the morning line.

Although Roman Dynasty was fourth in the Colonial Turf Cup, beaten 5 1/2 lengths by Showing Up, I thought his race was deceptively good. Racing for the first time on grass, he found himself racing well off the pace because Kip Deville ran off and established insane early fractions. With Kip Deville setting splits of 45.45 seconds and 1:08.61, Roman Dynasty raced in third down the backstretch, 15 to 16 lengths off the leader.

Presented with unfamiliar circumstances, Roman Dynasty figured to regress, and he did, going from a 97 Beyer Speed Figure, which he earned in winning the Match the Hatch Stakes, to a 90 Beyer in the Colonial Turf Cup.

Roman Dynasty still ran pretty well, though. After falling back to sixth in midstretch, he ran evenly to finish fourth, two lengths behind

runner-up Kip Deville and 1 1/2 lengths behind third-place finisher Go Between. Both colts are back in the Virginia Derby.

Roman Dynasty has to improve a couple of lengths to turn the tables on those rivals, but given that he has made only four starts in his career, that is not impossible.

I like that his trainer, Todd Pletcher, who typically gives his stakes starters a month or more between starts, feels good enough to run Roman Dynasty back with three weeks between races. No doubt, the chance to run in a $1 million race played a part in that decision, but even in lucrative races, Pletcher seems to be cautious about running his horses back quickly.

Judging by the easy half-mile breeze he gave Roman Dynasty at Belmont on July 9, when Roman Dynasty worked five furlongs on turf around the dogs in 53 seconds, Pletcher seemingly is trying to do as little as possible with Roman Dynasty leading up to the race, aiming to leave him fresh for the race. We'll see if it works.

As for value, Roman Dynasty should offer that - provided he isn't bet down from his 12-1 morning line price. Off as the 6-1 third choice in the Colonial Turf Cup, he figures to rise in the betting despite Showing Up's absence.

Kip Deville will take loads of support off a race in which he set unbelievably fast fractions and still held on for second. He also picks up jockey Rafael Bejarano, a move that will draw action.

Go Between, who rallied best in stretch in the Colonial Turf Cup, is also expected to be a shorter price than the 8-1 odds at which he went off last time out.

Admittedly, contention runs deeper than those simply exiting the Colonial Turf Cup. Seaside Retreat was dominant in winning a turf stakes race at Woodbine June 10, and Proudinsky missed by a nose when second in the Arlington Classic July 1 at Arlington.