10/27/2005 11:00PM

Key one horse and then spread 'em out

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PHOENIX - The day after the Breeders' Cup presents an opportunity to make amends for a tough day Saturday or parlay a big day into an even better one. The avenue? The $1 pick four Sunday at Oak Tree at Santa Anita, anchored by a contentious Grade 2 Carleton F. Burke.

I prefer to come up with a key horse or horses in the pick four rather than spread out in every race. It's a better use of your money than using one big ticket with all your selections. For example, putting in a 3x4x3x3 ticket costs $108, but each horse carries the same weight regardless of how you feel about him. You could take that same $108 and key the horse you like best, which would open up the other races. A ticket like that might look like this: 1x3x4x9. Or, you could go with a 2x2x5x6 ticket for $120. This is a better use of your money than spreading out in every race. It emphasizes the horses you like and gives you a chance to bring that longshot into play.

Sixth race - I'm going to find out right away where I stand. That's because my single comes here, in the first leg. Paradise Cove cost $600,000 at auction and failed to do much in his career debut at a mile on the turf at Del Mar in September 2004. He didn't race for a year and a day, but when he did resurface for trainer Neil Drysdale, he had added blinkers. He went right to the lead in another mile turf race at Del Mar on Sept. 3 and stayed on gamely to be second. With that strong return run under his belt and no significant layoff since, he looks primed to win his maiden here. He's my single.

Seventh race - So if I'm still alive after the sixth race I'll be feeling pretty good, because I've spread through the final three races hoping for a big number. This is a good race to spread, because you're talking about some cheaper claimers, whose form can often be elusive. Legal Logic is the horse to beat coming off a big win over $10,000 California-bred claimers here 10 days ago, but he hasn't been very consistent and is stepping up here. I'll also use Bonus Pay, a back-classer who once hobnobbed with the likes of Candy Ride. Bonus Pay was gone for over 15 months, has had two sprints since, and now has his value cut in half by trainer Jack Carava, who's having a strong meet. Mighty Mysterious wasn't too sharp here Oct. 6 against $16,000 claimers, but his prior race, against this caliber at Del Mar at near this distance Aug. 29, was quite good. Also, one of his two career wins came here. The horse who beat him at Del Mar on Aug. 29, Trendy, is here and deserves to be used after a decent try at Fairplex against tougher. I'll never hold a mediocre race at Fairplex against any horse. Sea of Silver just got done chasing Max Power and Tough Game, two of the sharpest claimers on this circuit. He was far from disgraced and should appreciate getting away from them.

Finally, I'll also use Triumphal Entry as a longshot. Sure, his last was ugly, but it came after two months off and was his first try against winners. Also, he was facing tougher than these and was being asked to run on turf for the first time. He's back to dirt and down in class, and his maiden win at Del Mar, on the dirt at this distance, was terrific. I'll go six deep here.

Eighth race - There are no standouts in the Burke, and the main issue is the distance of 12 furlongs. Few of these have run at the distance, much less had success at it. At Dawn is interesting because he can boast of a good run on this course and at this trip, when he was second to Group 1-placed Balestrini in March. A solid third here Oct. 6 shows he is headed the right way. Wild Buddy has run into Singletary and Three Valleys in three of his last four races. The one time he didn't, the result was a victory. Distance is a question with this guy, but trainer Steve Knapp is having a super meet and, with 11 wins, this horse can smell the wire.

Finally, I'll use the mare Stage Shy. She hasn't run in over 14 months and she's facing the boys, but her trainer, Drysdale, is not one to waste bullets. In fact, Drysdale has had ample success pitting girls against the boys. And in her last race, Stage Shy drew off to win impressively going 11 furlongs, looking very much like a horse who would have no trouble with that 12th furlong. Three deep.

Ninth race - An impossible race of maiden claimers, few of which have shown ability. I'll use Por Gusto, Herbie Love, Mesa Magic, Too Much George, and El Rey de Reyes, and cross my fingers. Five deep.

So, my ticket looks like this 1x5x3x5 ($75). To me this is a better use of my money than going 3x3x3x3 ($81). I'll take my stand in leg one and see where it leads.