04/07/2005 12:00AM

Duel will benefit Runway Model

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NEW YORK - Saturday is the kind of day that makes you glad to be a racing fan, with wall-to-wall stakes action at tracks from one end of the nation to the other. There are five Grade 1 races, three key Kentucky Derby preps, three particularly important handicap events, and a major race for Kentucky Oaks-minded fillies, meaning there is a little something to suit everyone's tastes.

At Aqueduct, the Grade 1 Wood Memorial, New York's premier stepping-stone to the Triple Crown, tops a card that also includes the Grade 1 Carter Handicap.

At Santa Anita, the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby, California's most important springboard to the Kentucky Derby, is the main event.

The Grade 1 Apple Blossom Handicap and the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap are the co-features at Oaklawn Park, while on the first Saturday of the Keeneland spring meeting, 3-year-old fillies have the spotlight in the Grade 1 Ashland Stakes.

Ashland Stakes

Sis City is going to take a lot of money off her 16-length win in the Davona Dale, and so will Summerly off blowout wins in her last three starts at Fair Grounds. But both are front-runners who figure to do themselves damage in a battle for the early lead, which makes Runway Model a strong play.

Runway Model finished slightly more than five lengths behind Summerly when third in the Fair Grounds Oaks last time out, but you can draw a line through that result. Runway Model was severely compromised when Summerly got loose through extremely slow fractions over a track that seemed to be strongly biased toward speed.

Last year, Runway Model left Summerly nearly five lengths behind when she won the Golden Rod. Runway Model also finished ahead of Sis City and another of her Ashland opponents, Sharp Lisa, when third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, a race where she would have finished second if not for serious stretch trouble. Moreover, Runway Model came from way back to win the Alcibiades over the same track she performs on Saturday.

Oaklawn Handicap

There is little that is more dangerous than unchallenged early speed, and Grand Reward is the lone speed in this race. Grand Reward finished fourth at 54-1 in the Santa Anita Handicap after disputing solid fractions, and still had the lead in midstretch. Grand Reward can have as big an early lead as he wants with minimum effort on Saturday, and should go wire to wire.

Eddington will be the favorite off his fast win in the Gulfstream Park Handicap, but he's worth trying to beat. In his career, Eddington is 4 for 6 at Gulfstream, but only 1 for 9 elsewhere.

Illinois Derby

This is the final, and perhaps most intriguing, leg of the NTRA Spring Pick 3 because the probable favorites are vulnerable. Greeley's Galaxy has the best last out Beyer Figure, but was greatly aided by an extremely slow pace, and Kansas City Boy was dreadful in the Louisiana Derby, as the only pace factor to be nowhere at the finish.

I like Monarch Lane, who was third in a fast allowance race last time out behind Kentucky Derby favorite Sun King, who came back to win the Tampa Bay Derby, and Survivalist, who came back to win the Gotham. This is a much easier spot.

In the first leg of this pick three, the Carter, I would use all six entered. Medallist, Forest Danger, and Don Six are the best horses, but they are also all speed. The Carter could fall apart late, making for a wacky result.

I would go three deep in the second leg, the Wood Memorial, using Bellamy Road, as he really may be vastly improved; Survivalist, who has been on the slow side so far but is eligible to blossom at two turns; and Naughty New Yorker, because he will like the return to two turns.

Saturday

Hawthorne: Illinois Derby
3-year-olds, 1 1/8 miles

Approximate post: Eastern-4:57 p.m., Central-3:57 p.m., Mountain-2:57 p.m., Pacific-1:57 p.m.; Stickney, Il., forecast: Sunny, 62 degrees

PPHORSELAST 3 BEYERSODDS
1Greeley's Galaxy9580739-2
2Monarch Lane8882-6-1
3Magna Graduate8991804-1
4Rikman9284845-1
5Unbridled Energy8658846-1
6Medigating78827112-1
7Win Me Over69627120-1
8Daddy Joe85667510-1
9Kansas City Boy8996817-2

Track morning line odds

Keeneland: Ashland Stakes
Fillies, 3-years-old, 1 1/16 miles

Approximate post: E-5:15 p.m., C-4:15 p.m., M-3:15 p.m., P-2:15 p.m.; Lexington, Ky., forecast: Sunny, 67 degrees

PPHORSELAST 3 BEYERSODDS
1Runway Model8682936-1
2Sharp Lisa9192885-1
3Summerly9596905-2
4Sis City9788927-5
5Letgomyecho9388906-1
6Memorette91908910-2
7Amazing Buy79848320-1

DRF odds

Oaklawn Park: Oaklawn Handicap
4 and up, 1 1/8 miles

Approximate post: E-6:05 p.m., C-5:05 p.m., M-4:05 p.m., P-3:05 p.m.; Hot Springs, Ar., forecast: Sunny, 75 degrees

PPHORSELAST 3 BEYERSODDS
1Second of June100941003-1
2Crowned King88888912-1
3Limehouse1081031002-1
4Grand Reward10396645-1
5Eddington1131071097-5

Odds by Vance Hanson