08/30/2007 12:00AM

Give Strike a Deal the edge over 'Nobiz'


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - When Nobiz Like Shobiz won the Grade 2 Hall of Fame Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 6, he left some observers believing he is as good on turf as on dirt, a surface on which he won the Grade 1 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct earlier this year.

Don't count me as one of those in his corner - at least not yet. Sure, he won by a half-length and quickened when called upon at the top of the lane, but the race was not as impressive as it appears in the past performances.

Nobiz Like Shobiz faced just five opponents. He capitalized under the conditions of the race, which required him to carry only 115 pounds, seven fewer than runner-up Marcavelly. And he also benefited when Marcavelly ran into traffic problems in the stretch.

Saturday when he races in the Grade 3, $500,000 Kent Breeders' Cup at Delaware Park, his task is more challenging. Ten opponents are entered to face him, including several that appear to be of higher quality than those he faced in the Hall of Fame, and coming off his recent stakes victory, Nobiz Like Shobiz is co-highweighted with Summer Doldrums at 120.

The conditions are ripe to take a shot against 8-5 morning-line favorite Nobiz Like Shobiz, and that is what I plan to do by backing Strike a Deal. A 5-1 shot on the morning line, he appears poised to break out with a victory following a pair of close runner-up finishes in the Grade 3 Colonial Turf Cup and Grade 2 Virginia Derby.

In contrast to Nobiz Like Shobiz, the last-race past performance of Strike a Deal does not do him justice. Racing against nine rivals in the $1omillion Virginia Derby, he broke a step or two behind the rest of the field, an incident not noted in the running line for the race.

What impressed me was how well he recovered from that tardy start. In a matter of strides, he advanced into second, but without urging and without getting overly aggressive under regular jockey Ramon Dominguez.

He had plenty of kick left for the stretch run as a result. Although beaten a nose late by Red Giant after surging to the lead at the top of the stretch, Strike a Deal battled bravely. He lost a head-bobbing photo that could have gone either way.

Red Giant then legitimized the race by running second, beaten a half-length, in the Grade 1 Secretariat at Arlington Park Aug. 11.

Strike a Deal's narrow defeat in the Virginia Derby - as well as his head loss to Summer Doldrums in the Colonial Turf Cup - benefits him from a weight standpoint under the conditions of the Kent Breeders' Cup. He carries 116 pounds, four fewer than Summer Doldrums and Nobiz Like Shobiz.

A versatile, more tractable colt than Nobiz Like Shobiz, who can be headstrong, Strike a Deal may be able to pull off a mild upset.

Going for upset at Arlington

Turning to Polytrack racing, Saturday's Grade 3 Arlington-Washington Futurity is a head-scratching event.

The four fastest horses on speed figures - Gold Coyote, Riley Tucker, Blackberry Road, and T. J.'s Posse - have no experience racing on synthetic surfaces. On the flipside, those with synthetic experience have not run nearly as fast.

Facing such a scenario, I'll take a price with 20-1 outside Celina Slew.

In his last race, a first-level allowance Aug. 5, he ran well to finish a close fourth despite a brutal start. Repeatedly bumped early, he fell 11 lengths off the lead after a quarter-mile and closed the gap in the 6 1/2-furlong race to lose by 2 1/2 lengths to Sebastian County, another starter in this stakes race.

A son of Tiznow - a sire whose offspring excel on synthetic surfaces - Celina Slew acts like a horse that should move up with the stretch-out to a one-turn mile for Steve Asmussen, a skilled trainer of juveniles.

Obi Wan Kenobi tough off drop

Last, I'll back Obi Wan Kenobi to return to peak form and win the $50,000 Tri-State Handicap at Ellis Park.

Although soundly beaten in his last two starts, he had legitimate excuses for those losses. Two starts back he raced behind Remarkable News and Brilliant, two top-level grass horses, when fifth in the Firecracker Breeders' Cup at Churchill Downs. Last time, in the Sea O'Erin Handicap at Arlington, he weakened to eighth after chasing the pace over yielding turf.

Moving into a softer stakes, Obi Wan Kenobi looms the class of the race under Brian Hernandez Jr., who is winning at a 24 percent clip on the meet.