04/28/2008 11:00PM

Don't ignore the Derby undercard


While more than $100 million will be wagered nationwide on the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on Saturday, the rest of the card usually offers its share of good betting opportunities.

A good key horse or two in one of the five supporting stakes could unlock a lucrative multi-race exotic. A longshot or two capable of a top-three finish might be the difference between a winning and losing day, given the multitude of exactas, trifectas, and superfectas that figure to attract substantial play.

While it can be a mistake to handicap any race before final fields and post positions are known, here are potential key horses for each of the Derby Day stakes, as well as a few handicapping notions that may play out in these familiar races.

Grade 3 La Troienne

Many of the same 3-year-old fillies nominated for this 7 1/2-furlong race also are nominated to the prestigious $500,000 Kentucky Oaks, a nine-furlong Grade 1 as old as the Kentucky Derby. Some trainers will gladly run in this shorter race around one turn, others will go for the Oaks against presumably stronger competition on Friday.

Alina: This Steve Asmussen trainee fits nicely in this spot after setting the pace and finishing second in the 1 1/16-mile Fantasy at Oaklawn, April 6. That race was won by Eight Belles, who is being cross-entered in the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby.

Game Face: Todd Pletcher-trained miss did well this winter at Gulfstream Park. In January she won the Grade 2 Old Hat at 6 1/2 furlongs and in March she was second in the one-mile Davona Dale after making a good move to midstretch. This in-between distance would seem to suit her perfectly.

For extreme longshot hunters and trifecta players, It also might make sense to consider one of the longshots nominated by Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas. Even without a Derby horse, Lukas would love to make his presence felt on Derby Day and just might enter Tazarine and/or Carnival City.

Tazarine scored a 20-1 upset in an allowance race on the final Keeneland racing card, April 25, and Carnival City set the pace in longer allowance races at Oaklawn this winter.

$250,000 Churchill Downs Handicap

Noonmark: A winner over this track in 2007, Noonmark was a sharp winner with a quick inside move in the Mr. Prospector at Gulfstream early this winter. The Steve Asmussen trainee was an okay third in the $200,000 Duncan Kenner, a sprint at Fair Grounds in March. He has trained very well at Keeneland for this seven-furlongs race for 3-year-olds and up.

Junior College: Six-year-old Anthony Reinstedler trainee has a solid local record and three sharp races at Oaklawn Park this year. Yet, he tends to be slightly underrated in sprint stakes at this level.

Grade 1 Humana Distaff

Hystericalady: Now 5, and a fast winner of this seven-furlong race for fillies and mares last year at 7-1 odds, she was narrowly beaten by Tough Tiz's Sis in the Grade 1 Lady's Secret at Santa Anita and by Eclipse Award Champion Ginger Punch in the $2 million Breeders' Cup Distaff in consecutive nine-furlong races last October.

This year, she was involved in a blistering early pace when fourth in the Grade 1 Santa Monica at 7 furlongs on Feb. 2, and came back to winning form in the Grade 3 Azeri at 1 1/16 miles at Oaklawn on March 9.

Hystericalady has been working sharply at her Bay Meadows home base and is going to take plenty beating if trainer Jerry Hollendorfer ships her in as expected.

Grade 1 Woodford Reserve

Einstein: Consistent Grade 1 turf performer ran poorly in this 1 1/8-mile grass race for 3-year-olds and up last year after a two-month layoff following his win in the Mervin Muniz at Fair Grounds in March 2007. This year, he won a Grade 1 turf stakes at Gulfstream in February and prepped for this on April 11 by running a good second to BC Mile winner Kip Deville in the one-mile Maker's Mark at Keeneland. The recent race and added furlong seem well crafted to improve his 2007 local performance.

Grade 3 Churchill Distaff Turf Mile

Sharp Susan: A Grade 1 winner at a longer distance last year, the Billy Mott-trained 4-year-old is two for two at the one mile distance, including a sharp allowance win at Keeneland on April 6. Has a versatile running style that can be adapted for any pace scenario and Kent Desormeaux rides her with confidence.

Ventura: A European import trained by Hall of Famer Bobby Frankel, who also trained her sire Chester House. Ventura has won her first two outings in America on synthetic tracks at Santa Anita and Keeneland. Return to turf is a plus, as is her preference for this distance.

Bit of Whimsy: Won the Grade 2 Mrs. Revere at this distance on this course last fall and may have needed her return when sixth in the Jenny Wiley. Trainer Barclay Tagg has had a very good winter and this Grade 1 winner would be a major upset threat if he slips her into this spot.

Beyond the above few and the probable favorite Dreaming of Anna, this is one race that may require the inclusion of several horses on deep multi race exotic tickets.

Grade 1 Kentucky Derby

Speaking of potential spreads to nail a multi-race exotic, the Derby usually requires several contenders for any level of confidence.

In my judgment, Big Brown is a likely single on 50 to 60 percent of my pick six tickets pending a safe post position. But, even if he draws a safe post, two other horses strike me as dangerous stretch-running rivals: Colonel John and Court Vision.

Should Big Brown draw one of the two inside posts and/or seem destined for a rough start and/or a hot pace duel, I will limit him to about 25 percent of my tickets, using the other two on 50 percent and the following six potential upsetters on a deep back-up ticket worth about 25 percent of my play. This back-up ticket necessarily will accent fewer horses in the other pick six and pick four races and will include Gayego, Z Fortune, Tale of Ekati, Adriano, Monba, and Visionaire. Realistically, in this Derby, there is no way to feel safely covered without buying all or most of the field.