08/23/2001 12:00AM

Draw line in the chalk, think second spot


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Converging circumstances conspire to make many bettors regard the Travers result as a Point Given. It's tough to argue on two fronts.

To begin with, this has been one of the chalkiest Saratoga summers in recent memory, with favorites winning at nearly a 40 percent clip through the first four weeks of the meet. That stretch includes an 11-for-22 run in stakes races, a .500 batting average that would have the likes of Upset, Jim Dandy, and Onion hopping mad.

In addition, Point Given seems like pounds the best horse, but he meets and greets the opposition at level weights. We've already seen him take the wrecking ball to A P Valentine, Scorpion, and that counterfeit Dollar Bill on a number of occasions. And it's safe to say that such new shooters as Harrisand and Hadrian's Wall aren't causing Bob Baffert to lose any sleep, no matter how uncomfortable he claims his hotel bed to be.

"I expect him to run so much better in the Travers than he did in the Haskell," said Baffert, after taking into account the several potential pitfalls Point Given ran through to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat on the New Jersey shore.

The Haskell field was quite possibly tougher than the Travers to begin with, and Point Given's training since the Belmont had been compromised by foot problems, leaving him a short horse. Add in the naturally speed-favoring tendency of the Monmouth surface, the fact that Point Given was giving away chunks of weight, and the fact that Point Given's second start off a layoff has unfailingly been an improvement on the first, and it sure seems like the last best chance to derail the Big Red Train has come and gone.

This creates a situation faced all too regularly by Saratoga players for the past month: whether to take a stand against the formidable-looking favorite, or concede him the race and look to capitalize by using exotic options on the wagering menu?

The evidence strongly points to discretion being the bettor part of valor, and exactas and trifectas become very appealing if you don't think any or all among the trio of E Dubai, A P Valentine, or Dollar Bill have to be in the money.

E Dubai, with Jerry Bailey and a 107-106-106 Beyer Figure line from three starts at Belmont, will almost assuredly be overbet in these pools. He hasn't been out in seven weeks, and it's possible that each and every race he ran downstate wasn't as good as it first appears.

On May 11, he was allowed to coast early on an easy lead. In the Peter Pan, he ran too fast early and lost ground through a slow 38.88-second last three-eighths. In the Dwyer, which was run on perhaps the only inside speed-favoring track of the entire spring/summer meet, he benefited greatly when Hero's Tribute was eased back in the early going, and never faced a challenge while beating three horses.

I tried making a case for A P Valentine to improve off his Jim Dandy, much the same way the Nick Zito-trained Albert the Great did last year, but a review of the Jim Dandy tape shows Victor Espinoza beating the tar out of A P Valentine through the stretch. If that race was designed as a prep, nobody told Espinoza.

As for Dollar Bill, well, it's Dollar Bill, and he hasn't run in nearly three months.

The Free of Love cat is out of the proverbial bag. Indeed, like Scorpion, he comes off a big move to a new top figure, and must pick up 12 pounds.

Harrisand and Hadrian's Wall simply don't belong.

That leaves Volponi. Like Free of Love and Scorpion, he must pick up weight after moving forward to a new lifetime Beyer top. Unlike those two, however, Volponi was not life-and-death to do it, which may prove to be an important point.

Hey, Volponi could bounce, even though he appeared well within himself in that allowance win of July 30. After all, he hasn't been the most reliable colt to this point. But if he "pairs up" with another 110, the Travers becomes a horse race. And even if he regresses a bit and runs, say, a 105, he's still 15-1 on the morning line, with a great chance to get second.

In view of his runner-up finish to Hero's Tribute here as a 2-year-old, and three solid workouts since his complete turf-to-dirt "makeover" with blinkers back on, the stage is set for Volponi to stamp himself as one of Saratoga's fabled horses for courses.

For sure, stranger things have happened at Saratoga. Just not this year.