09/14/2006 12:00AM

Good plays gleaned from three small stakes


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Saturday is being billed as a Super Saturday in college football, with seven matchups of ranked teams, led by such marquee games as LSU-Auburn and Notre Dame-Michigan.

In contrast, a look at Saturday's horse racing calendar reveals there really is not a "big game" scheduled. There are only two graded stakes for Thoroughbreds that will be run in North America. Both are at Belmont with relatively modest purses: the Grade 2, $150,000 Brooklyn Breeders' Cup and the Grade 3, $100,000 Floral Park Handicap.

Of course, big names and big purses in racing do not assure big, rewarding payoffs - with Bernardini's triumph over Bluegrass Cat at $2.70 in last month's Travers Stakes being an example. Big name horses can scare off opponents and make for less competitive racing.

Although smaller, ungraded races may not have star power, they often are the most competitive and bettable stakes races. So, with that in mind, I have zeroed in on three ungraded stakes races that drew large fields on Saturday.

One of the most appealing is the $75,000 Marfa Stakes at Turfway. A 6 1/2-furlong sprint, it drew a field of 10 runners, including Man of Illusion, who will be moving off the turf to race for the first time over the track's Polytrack surface.

That is precisely the reason I like the race. Because of Man of Illusion's 6-for-12 record and connections of trainer Patrick Biancone and jockey Julien Leparoux, the horse figures to draw much of the public's money, despite the fact that he has never raced on anything but grass.

Perhaps he will love the Polytrack surface and transfer his top form to it, but it seems a mistake to count on that - at least at a short price. Although some turf horses have been able to transfer their form from turf to Polytrack, others have not. I would rather take my chances betting against a horse switching from turf to Polytrack, and focus on a dirt horse instead.

As an alternative to graded winner Man of Illusion, my play is Smalltown Slew, a stakes-winning sprinter who has won 4 of 6 starts since being claimed for $30,000 in February by owner Steve Mongerson and trainer Tom Amoss.

He looked sharp over the spring-summer meet at Churchill Downs, where I saw him win three straight races, and he has maintained his sharp form in two starts since. He won a small stakes race at Thistledown in July and was recently a close third in the Better Bee Stakes at Arlington on Aug. 6.

Unraced since, he comes into this race relatively fresh, and a steady tab of workouts hints that he is fit and in good health.

On the basis of speed figures and form, Smalltown Slew looks as strong as any in the field, and the price should be right. Besides Man of Illusion, there are others in the field that will draw the support of bettors, including two-time Dubai Golden Shaheen winner Caller One.

Dynamist deserves another chance

An equally good betting race on Saturday is the $40,000 Pleasant Temper Stakes at Kentucky Downs, an all-turf track in southern Kentucky. A mile race for fillies and mares, the Pleasant Temper offers a full field of 12.

My choice is Dynamist, who should be a good price following a ninth-place finish in a Saratoga allowance race Aug. 10. Normally a consistent, hard-trying filly, she can be forgiven for one poor showing.

Last year she won the Denise Rhudy Memorial Stakes at Delaware Park, and this spring she repeatedly threatened in allowance races in Kentucky. She even ran a deceptively good race when fifth in the Grade 3 Locust Grove Handicap at Churchill on July 15.

The mile distance and the company suit her, and with several speed horses in the lineup, I would expect her to receive a favorable trip stalking fast early splits.

She rates as my top choice over second selection Beau Watch, who won the Pleasant Temper in 2004.

Short sprint suits Our Love

Staying on turf, the last of the my three plays comes in the $50,000 Majorette Handicap at Louisiana Downs. There my choice is Our Love, a Louisiana-bred who has repeatedly shown she does not need to race in statebred company to be successful.

Like her full sister Leslie's Love, Our Love has excelled racing on turf, particularly in short races like the five-furlong Majorette. She won this race in 2004 when making her first start in stakes company.

If anything, she seems stronger now at age 6 than she was in 2004 as a 4-year-old. She is prefect in three starts this year.

Although she moves out of Louisiana-bred ranks, I do not see why that should stop her. Few in the field have the established turf experience of Our Love, and she should prove dominant once again. She looms the likely favorite and acts legitimate in every way.