01/25/2010 12:00AM

Field size often overlooked factor


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - When analyzing the strength of a horse's last race, bettors often weigh the type of race, the final time, and the quality of the field.

Sometimes overlooked is the depth of the opposition. It is quite easy to miss that number on the far right of the past performances indicating the number of horses that raced in a given contest.

Most horseplayers would agree that a win over 11 rivals is more noteworthy than a win over five opponents, all else being equal, just as it is more significant when someone is the valedictorian of a class of 400, instead of one of 200. It is just that the information doesn't leap out in the past performances like Beyer Speed Figures or graded stakes running lines do.

One thing I won't be doing is overlooking depth in the two major stakes for 3-year-olds this weekend - the Grade 3 Holy Bull at Gulfstream and the Grade 3 Lecomte at Fair Grounds.

Both races drew large, competitive fields, and those exiting large fields seem to represent the best wagers. For starters, the depth these horses faced in their recent starts legitimizes the efforts, and the experience they gained by racing in such large fields should leave them well prepared the traffic and competition they face Saturday.

My choices to win the Holy Bull and Lecomte are Aikenite and Turf Melody, based in great part on the good form they have displayed in racing in large, demanding stakes fields.

In the Holy Bull, Aikenite is about as battle tested as any 3-year-old around in terms of depth. He faced 11 rivals when third in the Hopeful, lined up against 13 juveniles when second in the Grade 1 Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland, and then met 12 opponents last time out when fifth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita on Nov. 7.

Although off the board for the first time in the Breeders' Cup, his performance was still good. He reached contention in midstretch and finished just 2 1/2 lengths behind Vale of York and Lookin At Lucky.

After two starts on synthetic surfaces for Aikenite, I am expecting a forward move in the Holy Bull on dirt - the surface on which he scored his maiden victory at Saratoga and ran third in the Hopeful. His pedigree, by Yes It's True out of a Saint Ballado mare, further suggests his future is as a dirt performer.

With Jackson Bend and Homeboykris in the Holy Bull, the price should be right. Expect Aikenite to start at his morning line price of 4-1 or drift higher.

The Lecomte, like the Holy Bull, is a wide-open race, though seemingly not quite of the same quality as the Gulfstream feature.

My choice, Turf Melody comes off a victory in the $200,000 Springboard Mile at Remington Park over 11 opponents Dec. 13.

Although that race lacked star power, it was a race loaded with pace, and Turf Melody showed a new dimension to win by closing from ninth in a determined performance.

Much more striking than the modest 80 Beyer he earned was the manner in which he won - not only rating kindly, but bellying down in the stretch to win after being bumped in early stretch by the eventual third-place finisher.

Working in his favor in the Lecomte, a mile and 40-yard event, is his draw in post 2. With a short run to the first of two turns, he should be able to grab a good running position, while others in the field might struggle with wide trips.

Bella Medaglia good play at a price

The sister race to the Lecomte, the Tiffany Lass, offers another favorable wagering opportunity on a filly named Bella Medaglia.

She, like Turf Melody, is well drawn - landing in post 4 in the 10-horse field. Yet it is not so much that her post is great than the post for 8-5 morning-line favorite Quiet Temper is so poor.

Quiet Temper drew the outside post, putting her at risk of being hung wide into the first turn. And considering that Bella Medaglia was recently second, just 1 1/2 lengths behind Quiet Temper when they last met in a Jan. 3 allowance at Fair Grounds, the post advantage could be enough for her to upset that rival.

Most appealing of all, she is 6-1 on the morning line.