05/21/2008 11:00PM

Finding an alternative to Brass Hat


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - With TVG and HRTV televising racing, and with streaming video and racing replays available on the Internet, there has never been an easier time to watch horse racing and compile trip notes.

Yet now is not the most rewarding time to be play horses coming off troubled trips. Because so many horseplayers have access to such information, value on such horses has diminished, unless the trouble was subtle enough to slip past the general public or the Equibase trackman noting comments in the charts.

When Brass Hat raced in last month's Grade 2 Elkorn Stakes at Keeneland, he did not exactly have one of those "hidden" troubled trips. Breaking last of 11 in the 1 1/2-mile turf marathon, and spotting the field a couple lengths, he raced five wide virtually from start to finish and outfought a couple opponents in a blanket finish to run third.

It was an effort than no attentive observer could miss - a race in which he raced 98 feet more than winner Dancing Forever, according to Trakus, a service that tracks the horses throughout the race and measures how far each ran.

It was a quality performance, one that is sure to rate well on the Ragozin sheets and Thorograph, speed figure companies that take into account ground loss.

The problem is that his bad racing luck will likely cause his odds to drop well below his 7-2 morning line odds in Saturday's Grade 3 Louisville Handicap at Churchill Downs. And odds of 2-1 or 5-2 are too short on a horse more accomplished on dirt than turf and winless in four turf starts.

Although I respect him, if Brass Hat drops to 5-2 or less I'll play Lattice, who is 5-1 on the morning line.

A 4-year-old son of Arch who won the Grade 2 American Derby last year as a 3-year-old, Lattice is a colt with the class, pedigree, and form to be a major factor in the Louisville Handicap.

Admittedly, he is unproven racing 1 1/2 miles, a disadvantage, but offspring of Arch have done well in distance turf races, both in the U.S. and abroad, and this horse seems typically to settle in his races, a key when it comes to a horse finishing effectively in a three-turn turf contest.

Coming off a runner-up finish in a talent-laden 12-horse allowance field at Keeneland April 12, he looks poised for a good performance.

Lovango the play in the Hanshin

Spotsgone will try to win the Grade 3 Hanshin Cup Handicap at Arlington Park on Saturday for the second year in a row. He beat Lewis Michael by 2 1/4 lengths last year.

He may find this year's bunch a tougher group to defeat, especially Lovango, whose lone race over Polytrack resulted in an eight-length victory in the Forward Pass Stakes at Arlington last August.

Based at Oaklawn this spring, Lovango ran some good races on dirt, winning an allowance in fast time and twice running third in stakes.

His most recent race, a third in the Grade 3 Count Fleet Sprint at Oaklawn, was one of his best. Rated in sixth, he made a run to contend in midstretch before flattening out slightly to finish third, beaten 1 1/2 lengths.

He earned Beyer Speed Figures of 98 in the Count Fleet, and 100 in his Feb. 28 allowance triumph. Before he ran a 102 Beyer on Polytrack in the Forward Pass last year, his top dirt Beyer had been a 93.

Lovango is favorably drawn on the outside with a long run to the turn in the one-mile Hanshin, and jockey Rene Douglas should be able to place him in an ideal stalking position and go after Spotsgone at a suitable time.

Mauralakana tops in Sheepshead Bay

Although outfinished by Hostess in the Grade 3 Orchid Handicap at Gulfstream March 30, Mauralakana is a solid choice to win the Grade 2 Sheepshead Bay Handicap at Belmont Saturday.

A mare that is sometimes aggressive early, tugging at her rider, she should appreciate racing the 1 3/8-mile distance of the Sheepshead Bay, which at Belmont Park is a two-turn race.

She ran well in three-turn races in Florida this spring, running second to Hostess in the 1 1/2-mile Orchid and beating J'ray at Calder in the Mairzy Doates Handicap, but she likely will be more comfortable in a two-turn race going 1 3/8 miles.

Some horses will get a bit headstrong in three-turn races, probably because they are accustomed to picking up the pace around the far turn and through the stretch. So the riders have to restrain these types more than usual, which usually cuts into their stretch kick.

That may explain why a rail-hugging Hostess was able to run her down in the Orchid, when Mauralakana is seemingly the classier filly.