11/20/2003 12:00AM

Let's try to beat Bien Nicole

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NEW YORK - In some parts of the country, the days remaining for turf racing until next spring are numbered. It follows, then, that the number of turf stakes remaining in these locales are down to a precious few. In fact, in New York and Kentucky, the last turf stakes until next spring will be run Saturday.

At Aqueduct in New York, the main attraction is the $150,000 Red Smith Handicap, and it looks like the rain stopped just in time late Thursday morning to allow this event to be run on its intended surface. There were no such weather concerns at Churchill Downs in Kentucky, where the feature is the $150,000 Cardinal Handicap for fillies and mares.

Of course, Southern California doesn't have to worry about the approaching winter's hard freezes limiting the turf season, and Hollywood Park will be the scene of the biggest stakes of the day, the $250,000 Hollywood Turf Cup.

Here are my three spotlight stakes:

Cardinal

With the lack of a lot of other early speed in here, Bien Nicole doesn't have to go her third quarter-mile in less than 24 seconds like she did when she eventually gave way last time out in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf. That, combined with the fact that this is a substantially easier race, suggests Bien Nicole will take a lot of beating. I'm still picking against her.

I like Riskaverse, the only other filly in this race coming out of the Filly and Mare Turf. Riskaverse was a decent sixth in that race, beaten only five lengths for it all, after making a middle move that she sustained until deep stretch.

This is the easiest spot Riskaverse has been in since she won a stakes-class allowance race in her first start of the year in May. She competed in three straight Grade 1 events prior to the Breeders' Cup, and was a particularly good third in one of them, the Beverly D. Despite being up against it pace-wise, Riskaverse was beaten only a half-length for second in the Beverly D. by Bien Nicole. Clearly, there isn't much between these two, but Riskaverse will be a better price.

Red Smith

If I applied the same logic to the Red Smith as I did to the Cardinal, I would come up with Balto Star. After all, he is taking a substantial class drop after competing in five straight Grade 1 races, one of which he actually won. It is bad policy, however, to employ the same method of handicapping to all races. Plus, Balto Star is an unreliable sort, just as likely to deliver a Beyer Speed Figure of 70 as a triple-digit Beyer, and he has the speedy Royal Regalia breaking right to his inside to keep him honest early.

Now that I have made a winner out of Balto Star, I will go with Revved Up, whose mere presence in this race is taken as a sign of stable confidence. Revved Up has lots of layoff lines in his past performances, and he was freshened again after he was beaten as the favorite in the Sycamore at Keeneland last time out. But, instead of waiting to race Revved Up in Florida, which is always a target for the barn, trainer Christophe Clement brings him back for this. Revved Up can certainly win this off his strong second to Strut the Stage in Canada two starts back, or his stakes win at Delaware Park three back, even if Balto Star runs one of his better races.

Northern Dancer

There is nothing more dangerous in racing than a capable horse who is the lone speed, and that is just what Ironton is in this race. Ironton recently returned from a 3 1/2-month layoff to be an easy winner of a sprint at Delaware, earning a career-best Beyer Figure of 89 that is within range of what anyone else in this field can do.

Now, Ironton moves back in with Maryland-breds, and with his decided pace advantage, he should lead this field a merry chase.