09/20/2007 12:00AM

Fri Guy may wind up overlooked in KC Turf

EmailLOUISVILLE, Ky. - Saturday's Grade 3 Kentucky Cup Turf at Kentucky Downs is clouded by uncertainty. Some in the field are untested racing the 1 1/2-mile distance; most are unfamiliar with the track's unique, European-style course; and one entrant, Panamanian champion Golden Strategy, has not even raced on turf - though he has won a stakes race on dirt going two miles, whatever that is worth.

I suppose it is fitting that my choice to win the race, Fri Guy, is as tough to predict as the race itself.

Although a talented colt, he runs hot and cold, showing the potential at times to run with some of top turf horses in the country, while at other times losing races by a pole.

His last three races illustrate his tendencies. Three starts ago, racing in the Louisville Handicap, he never got close, running 10th, beaten 28 1/4 lengths. Then a race later, he ran fourth, only 3 1/4 lengths behind English Channel in the Grade 1 United Nations Stakes July 7.

Following that encouraging effort, he was brought back in the Grade 1 Sword Dancer at Saratoga. But after setting a blistering pace, he came to a screeching halt, checking in seventh, 39 lengths behind victorious Grand Couturier.

My guess is that when horseplayers analyze Saturday's Kentucky Cup Turf, they will view him as strictly a one-dimensional front-runner - a horse capable of big things when allowed to set a comfortable pace, but a vulnerable sort when beaten to the lead or pushed into quick splits.

With other front-runners in the field, such as the speedy and sometimes headstrong Starspangled Gator, I suspect some will view Fri Guy as merely a contributor to the pace.

Perhaps that assessment is correct. But I suspect jockey Julien Leparoux might be able to coax him into relaxing, whether on the lead or from just off the pace.

I am similarly encouraged that Fri Guy's connections are confidently trying him in Kentucky Cup Turf despite how badly he tired in the Sword Dancer. He is a horse who is still eligible for a second-level allowance. They could have regrouped and sought an easier spot.

Instead, they are taking a shot. And I will do the same by backing him to win Saturday's race, hopefully at a square price.

Hold the Salt ready for rebound

I also like Hold the Salt as a value play because of his hit-or-miss history in the Kentucky Cup Turf Dash earlier on the Kentucky Downs card. Although not a front-runner, he is inconsistent like Fri Guy, which should contribute to him offering betting value.

When this horse puts it all together, he is capable of big things on grass. He proved as much at Churchill Downs in the spring, winning a rich optional claimer. He also won an allowance at Tampa Bay Downs on turf last spring, posting a Beyer Speed Figure of 99, a number that would make him a force in this race.

He comes off an eighth-place finish in the July 7 Da Hoss Stakes at Colonial, a race that earned him a Beyer Figure of just 64.

This is a horse who is capable of showing wild swings in figures, sometimes running his fastest races after slow performances. Before his Tampa victory last spring in such fast time, he had run a 19 Beyer. And in winning a race in the slop at Churchill Downs last fall, he leaped forward from a 50 to a 99.

Cutting back from the one-mile distance of the Da Hoss to six furlongs or the Kentucky Cup Turf Dash, he should make a forward move. And being a horse who has already won when racing fresh, he acts like the type that should fire off a layoff.

Thecleverest looks like contender at a price

With probable favorites Obi Wan Kenobi and Quiet Royal appearing rock-solid in the Franklin and Kentucky Cup Ladies Turf, respectively, I am looking at the last race on the Saturday Kentucky Downs card for another contender that offers value.

In a race for first-level allowance fillies on turf, the public seems likely to concentrate its support on two runners: Leisure, a first-out winner of a grass race at Ellis Park, and Gerivello, who won a maiden race at Churchill Downs June 29 in her most recent race after a runner-up finish to eventual stakes winner Marina Ballerina.

My value play is Thecleverest, who comes to Kentucky Downs by way of Prairie Meadows. Although moving to a tougher circuit, she has shown flashes of talent and is bred to move forward on grass.

She has the highest turf Tomlinson rating in the field, a 353, and if she merely runs back to the 81 Beyer she earned in winning a maiden race at Prairie Meadows on dirt two starts ago, she will prove a force.

She also has experience against first-level allowance competition, something Leisure and Gerivello do not. She finished second in such a race at Prairie Meadows in her last start Aug. 7.