10/31/2002 1:00AM

Earl of Danby capable of upset


A frenzy of stakes races. Large, competitive fields. A lot of money on the line.

No, it's not the Breeders' Cup. It is the $1.325 million California Cup, a program of 10 races at Santa Anita for California breds, led by the $250,000 California Cup Classic, which tops the stakes action nationwide Saturday.

Also on the stakes schedule are two graded events at Aqueduct - the $150,000 Knickerbocker and the $100,000 Nashua - and the $55,000 Foggy Road at Delaware, which would normally fly under the radar, but not this time with 2000 Preakness winner Red Bullet in the field.

There are many playable races from that list. Here are the three I selected:

Cal Cup Classic: Look for a stalker

There is serious speed in this race, led by Hot Market, and there are potent closers, topped by the graded stakes winner Grey Memo. But, as quick as Hot Market is, he may be forced into going too fast early by Eric Da Bomb, Bonus Pay Day, and Long Gone Con. And, if there should be a pace meltdown, Grey Memo tends to fall so far back early that he may still have too much to do to get up in time.

I want a horse who can sit just off the early pace, and get first run on deep closers. Earl of Danby is that horse.

In his recent return from a 10-month absence, Earl of Danby tired after contesting the pace. But, he showed winning both of his starts last year at 2 that he is more effective rating off the pace.

Earl of Danby also showed last year that he has quality. Joey Franco finished third behind him in the California Breeders' Championship, and Joey Franco won four straight races after that, and is an entrant in the Cal Cup Mile.

Earl of Danby has not yet reached the Beyer Figure level most of his opponents have. But, with two strong workouts since a comeback race, I expect a big move forward.

Foggy Road: Beat a vulnerable favorite

Races like this are often automatic plays for a lot of bettors. We have a horse with a big reputation in Red Bullet returning from a long layoff at the wrong distance. Plus, he's coming back in a spot that is merely a prep for a more lucrative stakes engagement. Surely, Red Bullet's connections would love to see him win this race. But, with the $350,000 Cigar Mile looming in just four weeks, they're not going to knock him out in this race. If Red Bullet does win, it will be at a short price, and we will just turn the page to the next race. But, if you can beat him, then you may have something worthwhile.

I'm going with Rusty Spur. Rusty Spur was freshened after losing his form over the summer, and recently came back with a big win at Laurel. He showed eye-catching speed when he rushed up after a troubled start to set a blistering pace in the Carter Handicap, and he should be the main speed here. In exotics, I would throw in He's a Knockout and True Passion. Both are making their second start off layoffs and have run big over the track in the past.

Nashua: Pretty Wild capable of rebound

Pretty Wild was the beaten favorite last time out in the Champagne, but you can expect a big rebound Saturday. Not only is Pretty Wild, who was previously second in the Hopeful and Futurity, facing a softer bunch, he shows a best of 51 workout on Oct. 21. With blinkers on in the Nashua, you can assume Pretty Wild wore blinkers in that huge workout.

To get creative in exotic wagers, it may be worth trying to beat Boston Bull and Added Edge with Outer Reef. Boston Bull won the Cowdin last out, but on a sloppy track. Such performances should be viewed with some degree of skepticism. Added Edge was untested winning his three starts in Canada, but it's fair to wonder how good the Canadian 2-year-olds are after Wando came south and was last under the line in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Outer Reef, meanwhile, was awful in the Champagne, but he is being reunited with Jerry Bailey, who rode him in his maiden victory two starts back at the Nashua distance.