09/28/2005 11:00PM

Gotaghostofachance live off visual impression


ARCADIA, Calif. - Nuts-and-bolts handicappers can never be entirely certain when to allow subjective, visual interpretation to override objective, fundamental analysis. But in a game in which the ultimate consideration is always price, maybe it's not that tough.

Rock Hard Ten stands out Saturday in the Grade 2 Goodwood Handicap at Santa Anita, and his speed-class advantage will be reflected in the betting. That is usually the case - high-figure, Grade 1 horses routinely get hammered. And it is the reason why visual handicappers sometimes get the best of it when they allow their eyes to influence their decisions.

The four fundamentals produce less debate. On speed, a high figure is a high figure. On pace, expected fractions either suit a horse's style, or not. A horse fits on class, or is not yet established at the level. A horse's current condition is acceptable, or uncertain.

Allowing for some leeway, the handicapping basics are what they are - clear, obvious. But it's a different story with subjective interpretation of a horse's trip, and handicappers that allow visual impressions to inspire their wagering this weekend in Breeders' Cup prep races at Santa Anita and Belmont Park may find potential beyond the obvious.

Rock Hard Ten is supposed to win the Goodwood because he is the best horse in the race. It is even possible Roman Ruler could win; the 12 most recent 3-year-olds to race in the Goodwood produced one victory (Tiznow in 2000) and five seconds.

However, it is Goodwood starter Gotaghostofachance who left a memorable impression when he returned from an 11-month layoff in the seven-furlong Pat O'Brien Breeders' Cup on Aug. 21 at Del Mar. Trapped inside, chasing a fast pace (a half in 44.12 seconds), he cut the corner into the lane and made the lead a furlong from home, only to get tagged by a rally-wide closer (Imperialism) who was good enough to exploit optimum conditions.

The runner-up finish by Gotaghostofa-chance in the Grade 2 race was among the most impressive losing efforts of the Del Mar summer. Among the graded stakes winners Gotaghostofachance left behind that day were Unfurl the Flag, Taste of Paradise, McCann's Mojave, and Pt's Grey Eagle.

What does it mean for the Goodwood? It is hard to say. But it took only one start for Gotaghostofachance to prove he belongs on a short list of the best older horses in California. It does not mean he will beat Rock Hard Ten in the Goodwood, but it certainly qualifies him to give it a shot as the third choice in the betting.

At Belmont Park on Saturday, Ashado enters the Grade 1 Beldame as a favorite who has her hands full. Notwithstanding her dubious current form following the worst effort of her career, Ashado faces formidable rivals in Dream of Summer and Society Selection.

It was a runner-up effort by Society Selection in the Grade 1 Ruffian on Sept. 11 that stamps her as the horse to beat Saturday. Making her first start since throat surgery to correct a breathing problem, Society Selection was blocked behind runners through the turn while Stellar Jayne coasted on soft fractions.

Society Selection remained bottled behind horses into the lane, then finally found a seam and gobbled up ground late to miss by only 1 1/2 lengths behind the front-running winner. Society Selection's runner-up finish ranks among the most under-appreciated efforts of early fall.

There is only one reason not to unload on Society Selection in the Beldame. That is the dominating presence of Dream of Summer, who has more tactical speed than Society Selection. With all due respect to Ashado, an exacta that combines Society Selection and Dream of Summer might be the right play on Saturday.

There is plenty else to choose from in weekend stakes:

* Throughout spring and summer, European import Ace has been facing the best in Europe. He makes his United States debut Saturday at Belmont in the Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic. This time, nuts-and-bolts handicapping might actually produce an overlay. The class of the field, and already proven against the best in the world, Ace could be a standout in the Hirsch, and at a decent price.

* Is there any reason to expect anything other than victory by Megahertz on Saturday at Santa Anita in the Grade 1 Yellow Ribbon? Didn't think so. This is one favorite that should win.

* All summer, Corey Nakatani has been saying how much Unfurl the Flag will like the Belmont surface. That is one reason Unfurl the Flag shipped to New York for the Grade 1 Vosburgh on Saturday. It is possible six furlongs is shorter than he prefers, but Unfurl the Flag has been working super for his return. Pomeroy may prefer Saratoga; comebacker Woke Up Dreamin may need a prep. But the Vosburgh is an important race for Unfurl the Flag - he needs to run well to prove belongs in the Breeders' Cup Sprint.

* Wild Fit will start favored Saturday at Santa Anita in the Grade 2 Oak Leaf Stakes, and know this - her victory in the Grade 2 Del Mar Debutante was a whole lot better than it looks on paper. She was blocked, repeatedly taken hold of, looped wide, and powered home while jamming back 13 days after her debut. Since the Debutante, Wild Fit has been inhaling workmates in team drills. She's still on her way up.