01/06/2005 12:00AM

Let odds dictate play in Hal's Hope scramble

Sunny Taylor/Coady Photography
Shake You Down (right) heads Saturday's Mr. Prospector, but the opposition is strong.

LOUISVILLE. Ky. - As much as I enjoy watching a top horse perform in a major stakes race, it never breaks my heart to see the connections of a marquee horse choose to bypass such a race. In the top horse's absence, more horsemen take shots with mid-level stakes horses, and the race turns into a far deeper and competitive event.

Saturday's Grade 3 Hal's Hope Handicap at Gulfstream Park is one such example. If high-weighted Roses in May, the runner-up from the Breeders' Cup Classic, had been pointed for the 1 1/8-mile Hal's Hope, some trainers would have kept their horses in their barns, reasoning that at best they would be running for second place, or $20,000 of the $100,000 purse.

Without him in the race, it seems like everyone is out to see where their horses stack up leading up to the Donn Handicap. Thirteen horses are entered, including millionaire Dynever, who was third in the Breeders' Cup Classic a couple years ago. Also entered is Commentator, who is 5 for 5 and has never been challenged. And there are other horses of established quality, led by Badge of Silver and Purge, two speedy graded stakes winners.

Barring scratches, the favorite should be around 3-1 odds, maybe even a tick higher. I can picture Dynever, Commentator, or Badge of Silver starting as the public choice, with perhaps Dynever going to post a narrow choice on the basis of his earnings and the shape of the race.

Dynever, a closer, appears likely to catch a favorable pace in a race inundated with speed. Badge of Silver, Commentator, and Purge all want to go to the front or press the leader. And several outsiders, such as Smooth Lover, Wake at Noon, and Added Edge also tend to be prominently placed early.

Dynever was unfortunate in last month's Native Diver Handicap at Hollywood, when he had to sit closer to the pace than normal when the leader crawled the opening half-mile of the 1 1/8-mile race in 47.50 seconds. To his credit, he managed to close to be second behind Truly a Judge, who stole the race on the lead.

As good as Dynever looks on paper, I'm not entirely sure he will offer the price necessary to make him a good wager - not in a field with this much depth.

He and Badge of Silver, the runner-up in the Cigar Mile, are the most probable winners, though, by a very small margin over Purge and Commentator.

I plan to bet the overlay of the group, provided there is one. In a closely matched field, Dynever and Badge of Silver are favorable plays at odds of 4-1 or more, Commentator at 9-2 or more, and Purge at 5-1 or higher.

Shake You Down heads Mr. Prospector

The Hal's Hope is one of three stakes on a blockbuster card at Gulfstream. The other two are the Mr. Prospector at six furlongs for older horses and the Aventura at a mile for 3-year-olds.

Shake You Down, one of the top sprinters of 2003, is the headliner in the Mr. Prospector. To win, he will have to outrun a strong cast of runners, including Strength and Honor, Wando, Thunder Touch, and Limehouse.

The latter is my choice, despite not having raced since fading to sixth in the Ohio Derby June 12. Last year as a 3-year-old, Limehouse consistently ran farther and more effectively than many handicappers, including me, though he would - such as when he was fourth in the Kentucky Derby. Those races convinced me of what a classy horse he is.

Even following his break of nearly seven months, I'm expecting him to be tough. He is an accomplished sprinter; he is 2 for 2 off past layoffs; and the abundance of speed in the race favors his stalking style.

High Fly should win the one-turn Aventura, a race for 3-year-olds. Unbeaten in two starts, he comes off a pair of effortless victories at Calder in fast time.

He won his maiden by 9 1/4 lengths with a 97 Beyer Speed Figure Oct. 9, and subsequently won an entry-level allowance by three lengths with a 94 Beyer Nov. 20.

Only one 2-year-old ran faster at Calder last year - Devils Disciple, who went on to finish a close second to Afleet Alex in the Grade 1 Hopeful at Saratoga last summer after running figures of 103 and 99 at Calder.

Don't dismiss High Fly because of his Calder roots. He's legit and so, too, are his connections. Together, owner Live Oak Plantation and trainer Bill White have won at a 28 percent clip with a $2.41 return on investment since the start of 2002.