02/21/2008 12:00AM

Laurel: pick five starts with a real tough call


Hitting the "all" button might not be a bad idea in the first leg of this weekend's Magna 5.

Saturday's $500,000 guaranteed exotic wager begins with the $80,000 Maryland Racing Media Handicap, a 1 1/8-mile race for fillies and mares at Laurel Park.

The average winning Beyer Speed Figure for the last seven runnings is 91, a number that none of the eight horses in Saturday's field has come close to within their last three starts. In fact, only two, Cryptoquip and Hanalei Bay, have run a Beyer Figure of 90 or better the past two seasons.

Cryptoquip, a well-traveled 5-year-old, earned a career-best 93 Beyer last October at Thistledown. That race was at the same nine-furlong distance as the Maryland Racing Media, but it came against Ohio-breds.

On the plus side, after racing at 10 different tracks since October 2006, Cryptoquip will finally get to run twice in a row over the same surface. She finished fourth of nine following a wide trip in the Nellie Morse a month ago.

Hanalei Bay, a 6-year-old based at the Bowie training center with trainer Chris Grove, received a 90 Beyer for her second-place finish in a restricted seven-furlong stakes at Charles Town last August. In five starts during her current form cycle, Hanalei Bay hasn't done better than a 77 Beyer.

The situation could be ripe for Take a Check finally to secure her first stakes win. Now 6, Take a Check has finished second or third in 13 of 22 stakes appearances since November 2004, including a third in the Grade 2 Delaware Handicap.

Trainer Richard Small scratched Take a Check out of last weekend's Grade 2 Barbara Fritchie Handicap in favor of this spot. She's the 3-1 second choice on the track's morning line.

Although Small has used five different jockeys on Take a Check in her last 10 starts, he will retain Nick Santagata for the fourth straight race.

"We've tried her at different distances with all different kinds of riders," Small said. "They've all had a chance with her. Right now it seems Nick seems to fit her. It turns out many times another horse in my stable has beaten her in stakes races, so we're trying to keep them apart, especially For Kisses, so maybe she can win a big one.

"She's a durable type. We tried her in one-turn races at a mile for a while, but we're going back to the longer races now. It might be that we have to trick her into doing it."