03/28/2008 12:00AM

Elysium Fields a bargain at 3-1


NEW YORK - American racing fans will be looking beyond our shores Saturday as 2007 Horse of the Year Curlin and several other U.S.-based horses compete in rich events on the Dubai World Cup program. But Saturday promises to be a good day of racing here at home, too, with the Grade 1, $1 million Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park heading the national stakes schedule.

Florida Derby

It's unfortunate that something like post position threatens to have a significant impact on a race like the Florida Derby, an important event and a major stepping-stone to the Kentucky Derby. But after 12 were entered and morning-line favorite Big Brown drew the outside, it is nearly impossible to anticipate otherwise. The short run to the first turn in 1 1/8-mile races at Gulfstream, like the Florida Derby, puts horses in outside posts at an extreme disadvantage. How much so? Well as of this writing, horses who broke from posts 8 and up in 1 1/8-mile dirt races at the meet are winless in 37 starts. Horses who broke from the rail in such races are 9 for 29 (31 percent), and horses from the first three inside posts have won at a 24 percent clip.

In other words, for Big Brown to win, he'll either have to be a super horse, or all of his main opponents will have to throw in sub-par performances. So, I'm hoping the morning line is right and Big Brown is the favorite, because I'll be betting against.

I think Elysium Fields will be the favorite, but even though he is attempting to become the first horse this Gulfstream meet to win from the 8-hole going 1 1/8 miles on dirt, I believe if he goes off at around 3-1, he will be terrific value. Whereas the undefeated Big Brown has never met this kind or raced this distance before, and must deal with a worse post, Elysium Fields was a huge second in the 1 1/8-mile Fountain of Youth last time out, nearly winning from post 9. He was caught four to five wide on the first turn, three wide on the far turn, and after being passed in the stretch by the perfect-trip winner Cool Coal Man, he was coming back again late to miss by a half-length. Elysium Fields is much improved since getting blinkers, and has plenty of room for more improvement.

Palm Beach

Moving back to turf, and finally escaping the shadow of the talented Cowboy Cal, Titan of Industry is the play in this supporting feature at Gulfstream.

Draw a line through Titan of Industry's ugly effort last time out, as it was a dirt experiment that just didn't work. Before that, however, he showed ability on grass. The only turf races he lost were won by Cowboy Cal, who would be odds-on in this spot, and he had tough trips in two of them. When third in the Laurel Futurity, Titan of Industry was shuffled back on the inside around the far turn. And when he was fifth in the Tropical Park Derby, beaten only four lengths, he was squeezed back at the start and caught four wide around the far turn.

Tokyo City Handicap

The road to the Kentucky Derby? That's nothing! The road to the new and "highly anticipated" Breeders' Cup Marathon begins with this 1 1/2-mile headliner at Santa Anita. And Zappa, a reformed claimer who fits the profile of the kind of horse the BC Marathon might wind up attracting, is the bet.

Actually, Zappa has improved greatly for trainer John Sadler. Three starts back, he upset the San Pasqual Handicap, beating Well Armed, who came back to win the San Antonio Handicap, and Heatseeker, who won the Santa Anita Handicap. And most recently, Zappa finished a respectable fifth in the Big Cap. Not only does Zappa class up here, he also figures to sit a great trip tracking a pace that figures to be set by Plug Me In and prompted by Niagara Causeway.