10/03/2002 12:00AM

Huge weekend has upset shots


There are baseball fans who prefer the action of the divisional playoffs and league championship series to the World Series itself, and there are football fans who find the conference championship games more entertaining than the Super Bowl. For like-minded horseplayers, this is a key weekend, with final preps for the Breeders' Cup, from one end of the country to the other.

On Saturday alone, Belmont Park hosts four critical Breeders' Cup preps - the Beldame, Champagne, Frizette, and Kelso - worth a total of $2.1 million. There are also four at Oak Tree at Santa Anita - the Yellow Ribbon, Oak Tree Mile, Ancient Title, and Norfolk - worth a combined $1.15 million, and two more at Keeneland - the Lane's End Breeders' Futurity, and Phoenix - worth $650,000.

These races attracted my eye:


Summer Colony is unquestionably the best older filly or mare east of Azeri. At the same time, she is most at home going two turns. She does not get that in the Beldame, as nine furlongs at Belmont is run around one turn. It may be that I'm looking for weaknesses where there aren't any, but I've tried beating heavy favorites like Summer Colony for fewer reasons, and I'll try again in this spot.

I'm going with Imperial Gesture.

Yes, Imperial Gesture capitalized on an uncontested lead when she won the Gazelle Handicap last time out. And yes, in the Gazelle Imperial Gesture beat an opponent, Take Charge Lady, who was coming off a three-month layoff. But Imperial Gesture didn't exactly go slow early in the Gazelle, posting fractions of 23.19 seconds, 46.73, and 1:10.44. Take Charge Lady ran big fresh as she has done in the past, and Imperial Gesture earned a strong Beyer Speed Figure of 112, winning over the same distance and surface she will encounter in the Beldame.


Although I appreciate that Xtra Heat has won 23 of 30 career starts, I have been skeptical in the face of effusive praise of her greatness. Still the skeptic, I'm picking against Xtra Heat here.

Only four will oppose Xtra Heat in the Phoenix. But one of them has an excellent chance to upset her, and that is Day Trader.

I liked Day Trader when he won the Kentucky Cup Sprint in his last start because he was the controlling speed. With Xtra Heat around, he won't have such a huge advantage this time. We are talking, however, about a race at Keeneland, a track that naturally has a profound bias toward inside speed. And, with rain forecast in the Lexington area Friday and Friday night, the bias may be more enhanced over a drying-out track Saturday. Day Trader drew the rail. With his speed, and if he is ridden aggressively, he can deny Xtra Heat the lead and the inside. If he does, he will win.


Banks Hill versus Golden Apples in the Yellow Ribbon may be the sexiest matchup at Santa Anita on Saturday, but the Norfolk has appeal for a couple of reasons.

One, Bull Market looks like a strong play. Bull Market ran so well winning his debut opening day at Del Mar that he was sent off the favorite in the closing-day Del Mar Futurity. Even though he wound up sixth after getting left at the start, he did show an impressive rush-up move along the inside down the backstretch. Bull Market's pedigree suggests the added distance of the Norfolk should be well within his scope, and with a fair break, he can take this group wire to wire.

The other reason the Norfolk is interesting is it is the last leg of a national pick three including the nation's other two big 2-year-old events, the Lane's End Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland and Belmont's Champagne Stakes.

Sky Mesa, the undefeated Hopeful winner, looks like a stone-cold single in the Breeders' Futurity, as he figures to be even more formidable stretching out to two turns. The two to use in the Champagne are Outer Reef and Pretty Wild. Pretty Wild is obvious off seconds in the Hopeful and Belmont Futurity in his last two, while Outer Reef looks like a comer off a stylish maiden win in his last. Notably, both ran well in their last starts going a mile out of the Belmont chute. They will have to go 1 1/16 miles out of the Belmont chute in the Champagne.