03/29/2012 2:19PM

King: Trend capable of surprise in Gulfstream's Appleton


In part, horse racing is a game of opinions, stated by bettors at the mutuel windows. Call it right and collect. Call it wrong, and well, there is always the next race.

But forcing a betting opinion – well, that never seems to work out, not for this horseplayer, anyway.

So unless there is a significant deviation from the morning lines in the runnings for this Saturday’s Florida Derby and several of the other most prominent races that day, I will likely sit on my wallet for those races, believing the betting lines are pretty much in line relative to the chances of the competitors.

Instead, my wagering focus is on the undercard events at Gulfstream Park and Fair Grounds. There the value lies.

Starting with Gulfstream first, I see upset potential in Trend, racing in the Grade 3 Appleton Stakes in the eighth race on the card.

[FLORIDA DERBY: Video previews, watch Saturday's full card live]

A maiden until September of his 4-year-old year, he elevated his game this winter in Florida as a 5-year-old, winning an allowance Jan. 19 and following up that race with a fine second in a swiftly run Canadian Turf on March 3.

The latter effort earned him a 96 Beyer Speed Figure, the second highest figure in the race, trailing only the 102 that Brilliant Speed posted in finishing a surprising third in the Breeders’ Cup Turf last Nov. 5.

But with Brilliant Speed unraced since that start, and cutting back from 1 1/2 miles to a mile, regression from him is a possibility. And at a short price – forget about getting him at 5-2 on the morning line – he might just be vulnerable in his seasonal bow.

My guess is his connections are using this race more as a prep toward more prestigious races at longer distances that would seemingly suit him better – Grade 1 races at 1 1/8 miles and beyond.

As for Trend, his mediocre performances up until this year will likely result in bettors balking at the prospect of playing him, particularly since he only has one big figure, and for that matter, one prior start in stakes company.

Expect him to get a good trip stalking the pace under Julien Leparoux, and hopefully get the jump on the long-striding and late-running Brilliant Speed.

Orchid: Keertana playable at 5-2 or higher

A race following the Florida Derby another favorable betting opportunity exists on Keertana – provided she doesn’t dip below her 5-2 morning line in the Orchid, the 12th race on the card.

A marathon turf specialist, Keertana has made progress in each of her two starts this year and now looks ready for a peak effort in the third start of her form cycle. And working in her favor is the fact that she gets a four-pound weight break in the 1 12/-mile Orchid from her chief rival Hit It Rich.

A 10-time winner from 24 turf starts, Keertana is the fastest mare in the race if she can return to her better Beyers – which fall in the mid 90s. One such Beyer, a 96, came when Keertana beat the boys in the Grade 3 Louisville Handicap last year.

As for Hit It Rich, she has improved noticeably since getting the chance to compete in long-distance turf races, winning the Grade 3 Long Island in November and following that up with a runner-up finish to Keertana’s stablemate, Snow Top Mountain, in the Suwannee River on Feb. 11.

She’s legitimate, but probably not as good as Keertana if they both show up with their best.

Bayou: Category Seven offers value

Lastly, turning to Fair Grounds, where the $500,000 Fair Grounds Oaks is the headliner, it is worth taking a glance at the Bayou Handicap as the seventh race on the card.

Another turf race, it is very similar to the Appleton in that the classy Upperline is returning making her seasonal bow, as is Brilliant Speed. And Upperline, just like Brilliant Speed, will be expected by the public to win.

She may. She is the class of the field. But if by chance she ends up needing one, or simply returning at less than full strength, the race is ripe for an upset.

Artemus Kitten will likely become the alternative play for many, particularly among trip handicappers after they view the stretch trouble she experienced when second in the Jersey Lily Stakes at Sam Houston on Feb. 4.

The problem is that her trouble line almost leaps out of the past performances, tempting horseplayers to bet her.

Instead, I will take a value-based shot with Category Seven, an old-timer who failed to fire in the Jersey Lily in her first race of the year, but who is a mare with a record of 13 wins from 34 starts on the turf. Although not in peak form leading into the Bayou Handicap, Category Seven has shown an affinity for the Fair Grounds turf course and managed a pair of runner-up finishes to Upperline last year in well-rated races. She warrants a win wager if she starts at or above her 6-1 morning line, as well as an exacta box with Upperline.