01/12/2006 12:00AM

Don't overlook Natalie Beach

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NEW YORK - The long road to the Kentucky Derby begins in earnest Saturday, when Stevie Wonderboy, the Derby future-book favorite and a lock to be named champion 2-year-old male of 2005 on the basis of his victory in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, begins his 3-year-old campaign in the $150,000 San Rafael Stakes at Santa Anita. Elsewhere, Saturday is the biggest day of the Fair Grounds meet at Louisiana Downs, with four $250,000 stakes events, topped by the Risen Star for 3-year-olds.

Marshua's River Stakes

This turf race for fillies and mares is the headliner at Gulfstream Park and is an excellent betting race, not only because it attracted a full field, but also because three who figure to take a good deal of betting action seem beatable. Those three are My Lordship, La Reina, and Sauvage, and while they all have obvious attributes, My Lordship is by no means invincible, La Reina was only 2 for 15 over her last two campaigns, and Sauvage hasn't been seen since she upset the Sheepshead Bay last May, a strong indication of physical problems.

I like Natalie Beach, whose last three races are not nearly as bad as they may seem, but were off by just enough to ensure betting value here. Last time out, Natalie Beach was compromised by a bad outside post. Two starts back, she caught a soft turf course. Three starts back, she caught a yielding course while going an unsuitably long distance. But if you go four and five starts back on Natalie Beach's record, you'll find back-to-back wins on the turf at Belmont. Both victories were accomplished with powerful finishes, and one came in a restricted stakes in which she beat La Reina. And in her one start at Gulfstream last winter, Natalie Beach finished furiously to narrowly miss to Sauvage, who two races later beat the accomplished Angara in the Sheepshead Bay.

Duncan F. Kenner Breeders' Cup Handicap

This is the first of the four stakes races at Louisiana Downs, and while I have doubts that morning-line favorite Beau's Town will go off as the chalk since he hasn't raced in 14 months, he will take money purely on reputation. The problem for Beau's Town, beside the layoff, is that as a horse who is best when with the early pace, this race does not set up well for him. With Top Commander, Orphan Brigade, and Rodeo's Castle also in the field, there is a ton of early speed in this race.

That Tat has proved he can close at this level, and I'm going with him. That Tat has not raced since he galloped in a sprint stakes over the track in September, but he has run well fresh in the past, and has an admirable record over the track. In 14 career starts at Louisiana Downs, That Tat finished worse than third only once.

Risen Star Stakes

I have to admit I don't have a good handle on what kind of price Hyte Regency will be in this race, which isn't a good thing, because I think he is a strong play off his third last time out to Private Vow in the Kentucky Jockey Club. I know he won't be a great price, because no one else in this field has even competed in a graded-stakes event, let alone run well in one like Hyte Regency did. But with Todd Pletcher shipping in the last-out stakes winner Saint Augustus, and with Lawyer Ron and Mark of Success having higher last-out Beyer Speed Figures, I'm hoping that will help make Hyte Regency's odds acceptable.

Hyte Regency was caught four wide on the first turn and three wide on the far turn in the Kentucky Jockey Club, and also attempted to rally into a slow early pace. But he showed some quality to make a game run at Private Vow in upper stretch before weakening late as a result of his wide trip.

Saturday

Louisiana Downs: duncan f. kenner B.C. handicap
4 and up, 6 furlongs

Approximate post: Eastern-3:39 p.m., Central-2:39 p.m., Mountain-1:39 p.m., Pacific-12:39 p.m.; Bossier City, La., forecast: Sunny, 64¦

PPHORSELAST 3 BEYERSODDS
1Orphan Brigade70911086-1
2Dreamsandvisions86878812-1
3Beau's Town98103733-1
4Top Commander96921112-1
5Two Down Automatic8992898-1
6Stolen Time551007015-1
7Grand Bank83641022-1
8That Tat10599999-2
9Rodeo's Castle92931015-1

Coupled: Top Commander and Grand Bank; track morning line odds

Gulfstream park: marshua's river stakes
Fillies and mares, 3 and up, 1 1/16 miles, turf

Approximate post: E-4:44 p.m., C-3:44 p.m., M-2:44 p.m., P-1:44 p.m.; Hallandale Beach, Fl., forecast: Breezy, 70¦

PPHORSELAST 3 BEYERSODDS
1Brunilda9290898-1
2Malaysia7574826-1
3My Lordship9286953-1
4La Reina9190977-2
5Chancey Light78845930-1
6Natalie Beach86878610-1
7On the Bus8983296-1
8A Lulu Ofa Menifee88829220-1
9Dynamite Lass9589879-2
10Sauvage9487864-1
11Coquinerie68765350-1
12Asti86919312-1
Also eligible:
13Cute Connie64576750-1
14Miss Mambo79n/an/a8-1

Coupled: Malaysia and On the Bus; odds by Art Gropper

Louisiana Downs: risen star stakes
3-year-olds, 1 1/16 miles

Approximate post: E-5:09 p.m., C-4:09 p.m., M-3:09 p.m., P-2:09 p.m.; Bossier City, La., forecast: Sunny, 64¦

PPHORSELAST 3 BEYERSODDS
1Red Bordeaux7866-12-1
2Mark of Success9369-3-1
3Hyte Regency8984848-1
4Lawyer Ron9792784-1
5Malameeze79737710-1
6Midway Man8971706-1
7Saint Augustus8973712-1

Track morning line odds