09/07/2006 11:00PM

For Lassie pick, look to Mountaineer


Which prep race will turn out to be the key to picking the winner of the Grade 3 Arlington-Washington Breeders' Cup Lassie? Three of the 10 starters in this one-mile race on the dirt are coming out of the Top Flight, a seven-furlong stakes run at Arlington on Aug. 20. They include Sea of Joy, who won the race, and Lenaro, who finished second. But they are only the fourth and third choices on the morning line. Dreaming of Anna is the second choice at 5-2. She is 2 for 2, but her lone stakes win came in the Tippett, a 5 1/2-furlong turf stakes at Colonial. It is possible that the key stakes prep for this will turn out to be the Mountaineer Juvenile Fillies at six furlongs. That is the race won by Change Up.

If you are guessing that Change Up must have done something special in that victory to merit being the Lassie's 2-1 morning-line favorite, you are right. She dueled through a hot pace, then drew off to win by 4 1/2 lengths. Appealing Zophie, who finished second, was 8 1/2 lengths clear of third. She flattered Change Up considerably by returning to win the Grade 1 Spinaway at Saratoga by 5 1/4 lengths in her next start. Appealing Zophie earned an 83 Beyer in the Spinaway, just three points lower than the 86 she earned for her second at Mountaineer. Change Up earned a 98 Beyer at Mountaineer, 27 points higher than the number earned by Speedway, who won the Mountaineer Juvenile three races later on the same card. His time was nearly two seconds slower.

I like Change Up to win the Lassie. She showed a willingness to be tractable in her maiden win at Churchill, and if she relaxes a bit today, she can get the added distance. If Change Up puts Dreaming of Anna away midway through the race, Sea of Joy can slip past that rival to complete the exacta.

Longshot play in futurity

Shermanesque, who finished second in the Bashford Manor at Churchill and a nonthreatening third in the Saratoga Special, is the 5-2 morning-line favorite in the Arlington-Washington Breeders' Cup Futurity. I would like him better if he had put up more of a fight down the stretch when he lost by 3 3/4 lengths in the Bashford Manor and by 7 1/4 lengths at Saratoga.

Officer Rocket is an interesting alternative based on his 13-length triumph at Arlington in the Spectacular Bid, and looms the one they will have to beat. But the possibility of regression must be considered following that big win.

Street Sense is a contender who will help to ensure a strong pace, but he might have to duel with Irish Dreamer early.

If you are willing to take the 82 Beyer that Dominican earned in his third-place finish in his debut at Ellis at face value, he wouldn't have to improve much second time out to crash the exotics, or to win it all. Darrin Miller has a 27 percent win rate from a group of 15 starters second time out, with a huge $7.09 ROI, so improvement is certainly possible. Dominican's 30-1 morning-line odds make him an appealing longshot, and my top pick.

Positive early signs on Polytrack

The Polytrack surface at Turfway was reconstituted since the track's last race meet, with the idea of reducing the amount of material kicked back by the horses during races. Many handicappers have been wondering what effect those changes might have had on the bias of the racing surface.

The results of the races on Wednesday's opening night were interesting. Deep closers won each of the first four races. The track settled down later in the card and favored tactical speed, with horses who were fourth or closer to the lead taking the last four races. Even so, just one of the 10 races was won by the early leader.

First-call leaders were much more effective Thursday. They won three of the 10 races, slightly better than the 28 percent win rate that is typical for them in races on dirt. Another three winners were located in second at the first call, for a combined 60 percent wins.

It remains to be seen how the rest of the meet will play out, but handicappers who have expressed concern about the pace characteristics of Polytrack being very different from those found on the dirt should be encouraged by Thursday's results.