12/06/2007 12:00AM

Fired up by long odds on Arson Squad

EmailNEW YORK - Hollywood Park commands the spotlight Saturday with a stakes doubleheader consisting of the Grade 1 Hollywood Turf Cup and the Grade 3 Native Diver Handicap. Also, it is Louisiana Champions Day at Fair Grounds, led by the Louisiana Champions Day Classic, and Aqueduct has the Grade 3 Queens County Handicap.

Native Diver Handicap

Ravel, who at one point last winter was a top contender for the Kentucky Derby, may be the favorite off a big win at Keeneland in his comeback two months ago, his third straight victory dating back a year. But while it is entirely possible that Ravel is indeed a special colt, which would mean he would have little trouble winning this race, the fact is that at this stage of the game, Ravel's potential still far exceeds what he has actually accomplished. Ravel will on Saturday, for the first time, face a group of older opponents who are heavily stakes seasoned. And since he won't be any bargain from a betting standpoint, I'm going against him with Arson Squad.

There was a time when Arson Squad's odds in a race like this wouldn't have been appealing, either. After all, he ran well winning the Swaps Breeders' Cup last year, and the Strub Stakes early this year. But Arson Squad's price Saturday will be good because his last three outings were not pretty. Many will note that his last three starts were his first three on synthetic surfaces and attribute those dull efforts to a dislike for that kind of footing, and will avoid him Saturday since he will be running on Cushion Track. They might be right, but I'm inclined to ascribe Arson Squad's bad recent run to a simple slump, and to the fact that two of his starts came at the Grade 1 level. I like the fact that Arson Squad was freshened, and his works on the Cushion Track at Santa Anita are outstanding. That, along with a pace setup in this race, which favors his late run, suggests a return to top form for Arson Squad on Saturday.

Hollywood Turf Cup

I'm a Sunriver fan. I thought he ran huge when fourth in the Arlington Million while going against a closer's bias, and he was the best horse when narrowly beaten in the Man o' War - compromised by a rival on a suicide speed mission. But Sunriver is vulnerable here because I'm not sure going 1o1/2 miles is his best game, and the forecast of rain means he probably won't get the firm footing he prefers.

Champs Elysees is a logical alternative in his first U.S. start for trainer Bobby Frankel. And I fear him because his siblings Intercontinental, Cacique, Heat Haze, and Banks Hill all won Grade 1 turf races in this country for Frankel - but I'm going with the other European, Sudan, who will offer higher odds.

Sudan's class lines last year are impressive. Three times he was beaten less than three lengths by Rail Link, winner of the 2006 Arc de Triomphe. He finished only a head behind Red Rocks, who won last year's Breeders' Cup Turf, and he was only four lengths behind Manduro, who this year won all five of his starts, one over Dylan Thomas. And his win two starts back in the Group 1 Gran Premio di Milano says he has not forgotten how to win.

Queens County Handicap

Hunting won't be 9-1 as he was when he won the Stuyvesant Handicap last month, but he looks like a solid play.

His late kick was effective in the Stuyvesant, and he gets an even better pace setup this time. Barcola shook loose on the lead early in the Stuyvesant yet still gave way in the stretch. This time Barcola figures to be pressured by Barracuda Boy, and perhaps Marital Asset, which figures to make Hunting's job easier.

The pace also may help Evening Attire, who spotted the Stuyvesant field a bigger head start than the 2 1/4 lengths he was beaten by. But he is tough to back since he frequently drops far back once the gate opens.