10/26/2001 12:00AM

Let odds decide your bet


PHOENIX - It's completely understandable if you have a bit of a confusion hangover after Saturday's Breeders' Cup with its deep fields and tough handicapping.

But deep fields make for good racing and good wagering opportunities. The trend continues in Sunday's Grade 3 Carleton F. Burke at 1 1/2 miles on the Santa Anita turf course.

By the very nature of its timing there are no big boys to worry about, so you shouldn't have an overwhelming favorite. Injury has taken Bienamado and Blueprint out of the picture. What's left is a full field of good horses who figure within arm's reach of each other. Now to try and find out whose arm is sticking out the farthest.

Here's a synopsis on the main contenders:

Northern Quest: Yet another Bobby Frankel stalwart. He was a dull fifth in this race last year but he's better than that. He's also rock-solid at this level and he is proven going 1 1/2 miles. He got some time off this spring and came back to be a good third in the Grade 2 Sunset then a close second in the Grade 2 Del Mar Handicap. But last year's poor Burke showing, along with two other subpar efforts at Santa Anita raise the question: Does he simply not care for this particular course?

Bonapartiste: He once was a hard-hitter in Grade 2 and Grade 3 races, though he usually found Grade 1 assignments a bit much. Then he vanished from the scene for well over a year. He reemerged in August under the tutelage of Patrick Biancone. He hasn't been too good in his two return races - finished 10th, beaten six-plus lengths in both - but he desperately needed those races and maybe now he's ready to bring back some of that good old form. He'll be a big price, too, off those last two showings.

Cagney: Richard Mandella appears to have another South American goodie on his hands. That's not saying he's going to be Siphon or Sandpit, but he won the ungraded Escondido at Del Mar before finishing fifth in the Del Mar Handicap. After that he was a good third in the Hirsch, less than a length behind Senure and White Heart. He appears to be getting more comfortable with American racing and his Escondido win at 1 3/8 miles gave every indication he can handle 1 1/2 miles.

But is he ready to take the next step that would lead him past these?

Kerrygold: In the winter he actually gave Bienamado a legitimate scare. He got away from that beast to win the San Marino, then came right back to be a good third to him in the San Luis Rey. A solid try in the San Francisco Handicap, behind top-class Redattore, was followed by a dull sixth in the Dallas Turf Cup at Lone Star. That race knocked him out of action for a few months, and when he reemerged in the Henry P. Russell here Oct. 8 he failed to come back with his previous form.

His quality is clear, however, and he is proven here and going 1 1/2 miles. Say he needed that Russell try - then he's liable to be very scary here. But trainer Darrell Vienna usually brings them back ready to go. Was his dull return run a sign he was simply short, or a sign he might not be the same horse we saw look so good the first half of the year?

Summary: As in any race your wager will probably be a result of what's happening on the board. I don't believe Northern Quest likes it here, but I don't really want to be saddled with 2-1 or so.

Cagney, meanwhile, may have more arrows pointing up. He still has to prove he can beat the likes of Northern Quest, but his good third last time in the Hirsch shows he's headed the right way. He acts like 12 furlongs is right up his alley and he figures in the 5-1 range.

I'm also going to give Kerrygold another chance. He hinted at some big-time ability during the first half of the year. Maybe he wasn't quite fit enough to tackle those Russell foes, and maybe Vienna, smart guy that he is, was simply using that as a prep for this. He should also be in the 6-1 range, maybe higher.

I'll box Cagney and Kerrygold in exactas, and also play them both over and under Northern Quest, in case he realizes he likes it here. With contention being spread pretty deep here, even a Northern Quest-Cagney exacta doesn't figure to pay too poorly.