07/28/2005 12:00AM

It pays to avoid obvious angles

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Mambo Train stands out on paper as the lone speed in Saturday's 1 3/16-mile Washington Park Handicap at Arlington Park, which seemingly gives him an advantage and a chance to upset heavily favored Perfect Drift.

Determining lone speed, however, is like trying to pick the quickest checkout line at a grocery store. Whether you choose to wait behind the person with a full cart in aisle 1 or the coupon cutter in aisle 2, you seldom get out of the store faster.

Some circumstances cannot be anticipated, just as a bettor can rarely foresee slow breaks from speed horses or changes in tactics coming from the connections involved in the race.

Then, of course, you have the problem of most everyone viewing the race from the same perspective. Everyone wants the speed horse, just as they want to be behind the one-item shopper with cash in hand.

In racing, you get less value for following the obvious, because so many people are playing the same angle. Mambo Train will not be a short price Saturday, but he will be a lower price than he ought to be because of the lone-speed angle.

Hopefully that support, as well as money coming in on European import Billy Allen, will create value on late runners Fantasticat and Cryptograph. I believe they are the best horses to use in the exacta underneath Perfect Drift, who appears rock solid.

As for Mambo Train, I'll play against him on the angle that he is likely to draw more support than he should because he has shown some degree of early speed.

That is not to suggest that playing speed horses is a path to failure. Speed typically rules. But the value in playing speed horses comes from wagering on less obvious speed types. You want to play them when they surprise the public and get loose, not when the public has already factored in an expected clear lead.

What makes Fantasticat and Cryptograph appealing? Class. Both won stakes in 2004 and are among the most successful of seven starters in the Grade 2 Washington Park. Fantasticat won the Grade 2 Super Derby last year, and Cryptograph won the Round Table Stakes in 2004 over the Arlington surface, beating Fantasticat.

Cryptograph has been in the better form of late, running competitively and earning Beyer Speed Figures of 99 in each of his last four starts. Fantasticat has shown signs of returning to form, though, and now makes the second start of his current form cycle.

Neither has a lick of early speed, which is a strike against them, as it would be in any race, but

their prices should be right. Cryptograph is third choice at 4-1 on the morning line; Fantasticat is fourth choice at 5-1. Both could drift higher.

As for Perfect Drift, he hasn't won a stakes race since September 2003, when he took the Kentucky Cup Classic; running against the likes of Roses in May, Pleasantly Perfect, Ghostzapper, and Saint Liam at least partially explains why. Coming off a third-place finish in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster, he should relish the drop into the Washington Park Handicap. I'll play him on top of Fantasticat and Cryptograph in exactas.

Level Playingfield the pick at Ellis

Saturday's Don Bernhardt Handicap at Ellis Park drew a strong group of sprinters. The public figures to pounce on Fire Slam, a graded-stakes-winning comebacker, and Coach Jimi Lee, a seven-time stakes winner with striking Beyers.

I see value in Level Playingfield, who ran down Coach Jimi Lee in a slow-paced race in the slop at Churchill on June 3. He subsequently ran fifth in the Grade 3 Aristides Handicap, a race that was contested in track-record time.

Despite having won the Grade 3 Kentucky Cup Sprint last year, Level Playingfield has been relatively unpopular with the betting public. Not once in his last 12 starts has he started as the favorite.

That has not stopped him from performing well. He ran second at 50-1 odds on Derby Day, when he finished second in the Churchill Downs Handicap. He is an overlay at odds of 4-1 or more.