05/24/2007 11:00PM

Doesn't get much better than this

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PHOENIX - I imagine most handicappers, including myself, would say their favorite day to handicap and wager is Breeders' Cup Day. I know for the longest time, before there was a Hollywood Park fall meet, my favorite day was Dec. 26 - when Santa Anita returned and got me out of a month and a half of handicapping hibernation, back before there was any simulcasting.

But besides Breeders' Cup Day, there's little doubt that Memorial Day is my favorite day of racing. That's because three of my favorite races take place - the Met Mile at Belmont and the Shoemaker Mile and Gamely Handicap at Hollywood Park.

They often provide wonderful wagering opportunities. They often provide a glimpse toward the Breeders' Cup, and they always provide stirring competition. It gets all the better if I can enjoy the races and cash.

Let's examine how those races may play out on Monday.

Met Mile

The fascinating aspect to this race is the combination of combatants. You get sprinters stretching out (Ah Day, Half Ours). You get horses who do their best at seven furlongs to a mile (Silver Wagon, Silent Name, Latent Heat). And, you get tough veterans who handle just about any game (Sun King, Lawyer Ron, Corinthian).

Surely the pace will be hot, so I have to believe the winner will come from off the pace.

Sun King did everything right last year in the Met Mile. Trouble was, so did Silver Train, who had won the Breeders' Cup Sprint there the previous fall. Sun King closed with a rush but just failed to catch Silver Train. Sun King has been trained this year by Nick Zito with the Met Mile specifically in mind. His return, in the Grade 3 Westchester at a mile here opening day was solid and sets him up well for this. And most encouraging is a blistering 46.84 four-furlong work at Belmont last Monday. That was the second fastest of 67 horses to work that distance that day. It says he's sharp, fit, and ready.

Shoemaker Mile

It's hard not to root for The Tin Man, the venerable 9-year-old who makes his first start of the year off the best year of his life. He won 4 of 5 in 2006, his only loss coming when second behind top-class David Junior in the Group 1 Dubai Duty Free. He can handle a mile, but his previous try in this race wasn't pretty (finished ninth back in 2003).

Charmo had the look of a top miler last year, but hasn't come back with the same verve this year. Chinese Dragon came back off a long layoff to win the Grade 2 San Francisco Mile at Golden Gate April 28 to show he's still got what it takes.

But Kip Deville has become a new horse. Once a speed-crazed router who often gave it up turning for home, he has managed to harness that eagerness. Oh, he still has his speed, but he's not reckless with it. In fact, he's turned it into a significant tactical edge as it now gets him position, and he can still finish. He has won three in a row, including the Grade 1 Kilroe Mile at Santa Anita March 3 and the Grade 2 Maker's Mark at Keeneland April 13 (defeating no less a rival than top-class turfer Showing Up).

Anyone for four in a row?

Gamely

It's not a big field and Wait a While isn't here, but my goodness the quality is considerable. Vacare comes here unbeaten in five starts, including a smart return win at Gulfstream April 1. She ships in from the East Coast for Christophe Clement. He could easily have waited for the Grade 2 Just a Game on the Belmont Stakes undercard June 9, but the fact he opts to come west is encouraging. Citronnade, part of the powerful Bobby Frankel turf female contingent, has blossomed into a top runner. She was no match for Vacare in last October's Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland, but since then has posted three straight wins. She won the Audrey Skirball-Kenis over the Hollywood Park turf Nov. 12 and then really turned the corner with monster wins in the Grade 2 San Gorgonio and Grade 2 Santa Ana handicaps at Santa Anita.

Trouble is, good as Citronnade is she might not be the best turf filly or mare in the barn. That status may well belong to Price Tag, who also runs Monday.

She has raced only once since a dazzling win in Hollywood's Grade 1 Matriarch last fall, a laughingly easy allowance score at Santa Anita March 16. She was entered in the Grade 3 Churchill Distaff Turf Mile on the Kentucky Derby undercard May 5 but was scratched when the turf came up soft. She has worked strongly since and may be ready to undertake a path similar to such Frankel beasts as Intercontinental and Heat Haze.