07/22/2007 11:00PM

Let's start Saratoga with a pick-four hit


NEW YORK - For many East Coast racing folks such as myself, Wednesday is a day like no other - opening day at Saratoga.

Summer is in full swing. People who plan to attend the races early in the meet will be thinking of ways to beat the heat and humidity in Saratoga Springs, which can be oppressive. And those who take a moment to think of events happening outside of town - how dare they! - might wonder how next week's trading deadline in Major League Baseball will affect the pennant races.

By the time Saratoga closes on Labor Day, the nights will have become chilly, and the leaves will have begun to turn. And the National Football League season will almost be at hand.

It might span only six weeks, but Saratoga's race meet occupies a transition period. And it will also be reflected by what transpires on the track between now and closing day.

The battle for champion 3-year-old male, which is impossible to call right now between Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense and Preakness winner Curlin, stands a big chance of producing a clear-cut leader in the Travers Stakes on Aug. 25.

There's also a shot that we might get our first indication of how this year's 3-year-olds stack up against older opponents. Anyone for Any Given Saturday taking on elders in the Woodward on Sept. 1?

Juvenile rankings don't exist at this moment. But by the time Saratoga's six major graded stakes for 2-year-olds have been run, pecking orders for the East's juvenile male and filly divisions will have been established. And this only scratches the surface.

As special as it is, the Saratoga experience is best when you're winning. So with that in mind, let's try to get an early jump by hitting the early pick four on opening day.

We tried hitting the late pick four in this space on opening day last year, and took a nasty beat out of a score that would have approached five figures when Desire to Excel finished second as clearly the best filly in the Schuylerville Stakes. So in the belief that we have one coming to us, let's try again:

The early pick four starts with one of those special 2-year-old maiden races synonymous with Saratoga. And while I am especially interested in Sargent Seattle, who shows a strong workout line and must look like some kind of athlete since he sold last fall for nearly six times his sire's $60,000 stud fee, I'll use four others. They are: Forest Prince, a Mineshaft first-time starter backed by the combination of trainer Todd Pletcher and jockey John Velazquez; Immortal Eyes, who has every right to improve off a good third in his debut in a highly regarded maiden race at Belmont; In Orbit, who will be a huge price off a dull debut at Churchill but who is trained by D. Wayne Lukas, known in the past to pop with big prices on second-time starters, and who sold as a yearling for 11 times his sire's stud fee; and Hi Chris, a Nick Zito-trained first-time starter with good workouts.

I'm going two deep in the third race while looking to beat Deadly Dealer. I like Scorpius, who romped in his only two starts on conventional dirt and is the inside speed, and Grand Champion, who won in fast time most recently against two horses that came back and galloped in their next starts.

In the fourth race, I could be happy standing alone with the Gary Contessa-trained entry of Holy Tribute and Sister Desiree, either of whom can win. A repeat of Holy Tribute's near miss in a similar spot in the first of her two career attempts on turf would be hard to top, while Sister Desiree showed good speed against better last time out in an overnight stakes - and two starts back, she finished well to be third behind two solid next-out winners. But in the hopes of creating some bust-out potential, I'll throw in Egypt Lane. She is stepping way up, but was a strong second in a claimer last time out in her first start in turf, and maybe she has found her calling on a new surface.

This pick four ends in the fifth race, one of those straight maiden races going long on the turf that are often terrific betting races. I'm going to try and beat obvious contenders on paper, such as Rocket Legs and Virginia Minstrel, with Borobudur, All Verses, and Warn. Borobudur makes his U.S. debut for trainer Bobby Frankel, and is a sibling to the graded turf-stakes winners Good Journey and Sea of Showers, as well as to the top-notch sprinter Aldebaran. All Verses finished fifth in his debut after a wide trip behind the subsequent runner-up in the Lexington Stakes, and is expected to improve. And Warn was a narrowly beaten second last time out in his turf debut after making a big move on the far turn and swerving all over the track in the stretch.

So, the play is 5x2x2x3, for $60 for a $1 play. And if we hit it, and it breaks the right way, we won't have to worry about the bar tabs at Siro's this meet.