01/20/2005 1:00AM

Fault not Savorthetime come The First Lady

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Most buyers of Thoroughbreds cannot afford to acquire a horse with all the traits they desire - be it a yearling or an established runner currently on the track. Yearlings with flawless conformation, pedigree, and X-rays become the targets of those with deeper pockets. It is no different for horses of racing age. If a young colt has a distance pedigree and has already run fast times, his or her price tag can swell to up to seven figures.

To find affordable horses with potential, buyers with limited resources seek to acquire horses with forgivable faults, knowing a blemish here or there will send others looking in another direction.

Similarly, bettors cannot regularly afford to wager on a horse with everything they want. A horse with the highest numbers, the most graded success, and the winningest connections sticks out like a full brother to Ghostzapper in a yearling sale.

Bettors need to be willing to accept a shortcoming or two. The horse can even be the favorite - but a bettor must feel that the horse is at least a few ticks higher on the board because of a fault or two that he considers to be relatively insignificant.

I feel that way about Savorthetime in Saturday's The First Lady Handicap at Gulfstream. Facing only six rivals, she figures to be around 5-2, though in my evaluation, she is a legitimate 8-5 shot.

A 6-year-old Gilded Time mare, Savorthetime possesses two qualities I like to see in a racehorse: quality speed figures and a habit of winning. She won 7 of 14 starts in 2003-2004, four times earning triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures.

What she lacks is success in graded stakes races, which might cause some bettors to question her class. Twice in her 23-race career she has raced in a graded stakes race, with both efforts resulting in off-the-board finishes. The most recent of her two flops was a seventh-place finish as the 5-2 favorite in the Honorable Miss Stakes at Saratoga this past summer.

Some of the horses that finished in front of her that day, runner-up Ebony Breeze and fourth-place Cologny, are in The First Lady, and Cologny may be in a position to grab an uncontested lead. To turn the tables, Savorthetime will have to improve 7 to 10 lengths on her race in the Honorable Miss.

I am willing to overlook Savorthetime's Honorable Miss failure, a race that took place more than five months ago. It is encouraging to see that trainer Steve Asmussen is boldly shipping her to Gulfstream. The conservative option would have been to wait for the Feb. 5 Pan Zareta Stakes at her home base at Fair Grounds. But this race provides a graded stakes opportunity. The Pan Zareta does not.

Savorthetime will undoubtedly attract attention coming off the 103 Beyer Speed Figure she earned in winning the Dream Supreme Handicap at Churchill on Nov. 26. But I'm hopeful that some will view the big fig with skepticism, given that none of the horses exiting that race have run back to the figures they posted.

Of the two other horses that have run since the race, runner-up Hippogator (97 Beyer) has twice gone unplaced in subsequent starts, running figures of 46 and 71, and third-place Souris (95 Beyer) came back with Beyers of 82 and 89.

Those four figures do little to discourage me. Hippogator figured to run quickly in the Dream Supreme, racing loose on the lead, and Souris had run quickly in her start preceding the Dream Supreme, receiving a 105 Beyer.

The 103 Beyer Savorthetime earned in winning the race is accurate. She ran 6 1/2 furlongs in the Dream Supreme in 1:16.94, the second-fastest of 27 races run at that distance at Churchill Downs this past fall. Only male sprinter Strength and Honor ran faster, winning the Distorted Humor Stakes in 1:16.44.

Also keep in mind that Savorthetime holds the six-furlong track record at Lone Star Park, having won the Valid Expectations Stakes there last year in 1:07.82. To put that in perspective, Speightstown ran 1:08.11 in winning the Breeders' Cup Sprint at Lone Star - though over a surface that played slower.

If she can run back to her Lone Star race - or to her effort in the Dream Supreme - Savorthetime can win her first graded stakes race in The First Lady Handicap.