05/22/2008 11:00PM

Divine Park first or second in Met Mile


LEXINGTON. Ky. - Monday's Memorial Day race cards will feature a number of graded stakes races, including three Grade 1's - one on dirt and two on turf. What's better than watching top-quality horse races? Watching top-quality horse races and winning money on them. Let's see if we can make that happen.

Belmont's Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap looks a little chalky. The horse to beat in this one-mile race is Commentator, who won his two most recent starts by 14 and 13 3/4 lengths, with speed to spare each time. He has also won 4 of 6 starts at Belmont.

If you don't have a strong opinion on a horse who can beat Commentator, your best hope is to key him on top and search for wagering value in the exotic betting pools. Which direction you go will probably have something to do with your opinion on how the pace of this race will play out. Premium Wine, who was a fast-closing third at Aqueduct in the seven-furlong Grade 1 Carter Handicap, would benefit from an aggressive pace and might be the one to pick up the pieces if Commentator wears out the other speed horses in the field. The deep-closing Lord Snowdon rallied to finish fourth in the Carter, and is also a good candidate to benefit under that pace scenario.

I'll give the nod to Divine Park in the bottom slot in the exacta. He rated kindly in third, four lengths behind a strong pace, in the Grade 3 Westchester Handicap, then kicked past the leaders with authority and won that one-mile race going away. That would also be a pretty good trip in this race. If Commentator is overbet and Divine Park offers a square price, Divine Park would be the betting value in the win pool.

The other two Grade 1 stakes races will be run on the turf at Hollywood Park. Daytona is my selection to win the Shoemaker Breeders' Cup Mile. He has won 5 of his last 6 races, with the lone loss, a third-place finish, coming on yielding turf at Fair Grounds. Early and tactical speed are usually advantages on the grass at Hollywood, and there are a few runners who should be close to the pace during the early going. But Daytona has more natural speed than his rivals do. And if another runner insists on wresting the early lead from him, Daytona may still be in good shape since he was second at the first call in two of his seven wins.

There are other contenders in the Shoemaker. Hyperbaric finished only a neck behind Daytona in the Grade 2 Arcadia Handicap. That was his second start following a 14-month layoff, so continued improvement is possible. That makes him a threat to pull off a minor upset.

Ever a Friend paid $20.60 when he won the Grade 1 Frank Kilroe Mile at Santa Anita on March 1. If he avoids regression following that career-best performance, he'll be a serious threat. The time off since that victory should help. Trainer Mike Mitchell shows 19 percent wins and a $3.02 return on investment with horses returning from breaks of 61 through 180 days.

Rebellion rallied six wide to win the Grade 2 Commonwealth going seven furlongs on Polytrack at Keeneland. He's at least as good on grass. That was his first start since October, and trainer Graham Motion has won with 22 percent of his starters second time back from breaks of 45 through 180 days, with a $2.64 ROI.

Thousand Words finished fifth behind Rebellion at Keeneland, then followed with a fifth-place finish in the Grade 2 Churchill Downs. But he proved that he is a better horse on grass when he won an $80,000 optional claiming race at Santa Anita with a 105 Beyer Speed Figure that could put him in the thick of contention in this race.

Precious Kitten is my selection in the Grade 1 Gamely Breeders' Cup Stakes. She disappointed with a fifth-place finish as the 5-2 favorite in the Grade 2 Jenny Wiley at Keeneland. But she won the Grade 1 Matriarch at Hollywood in her previous start. Bettors rooting for a rebound should note that trainer Bobby Frankel shows 24 percent wins from a large group of runners second time back from vacations of 45 through 180 days. Compare that to his 18 percent overall percentage and improvement by Precious Kitten in this race is a distinct possibility.

Diamond Diva is an improving filly who is 2 for 2 in the U.S. She can enjoy a good trip while close to the lead if the fractions are ordinary. Continued progress would give her a good chance to capitalize if Precious Kitten doesn't run a more typical race.

Rutherienne has won 7 of her last 8 races, including an upset triumph versus Precious Kitten in the Jenny Wiley. But her closing tactics were a better fit on the grass at Keeneland than they are likely to be at Hollywood.