08/24/2006 11:00PM

Let's try to beat Dubai Escapade

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - How well has early speed been holding on the dirt at Saratoga in recent days? A check of the seven race cards at Saratoga from Aug. 17-24 shows that the early leader won 29 percent of the races. That is very close to the strong win rates for early speed on most main tracks. A study of 1,671,627 starters at a wide variety of main tracks from my book, "The Power of Early Speed," showed that the first-call leader won 28 percent of those races, with a $3.12 return on investment.

A check of the track and distance charts in my book, however, shows that seven furlong races at Saratoga are usually the least speed favoring of the sprint distances there, with a 22 percent win rate. With that in mind it might be worth playing against the early speed in a race at that distance if the horse is overbet, is likely to have to duel, shows any recent signs of vulnerability, and if there is a viable alternative.

It just so happens that Dubai Escapade, the likely speed and the probable favorite in the seven-furlong Grade 1 Ballerina at Saratoga on Sunday, fits some of those requirements. The question is whether she fits enough of them to make it worth betting against her.

Here is the case for betting against Dubai Escapade: She does best as the early leader, so the seven-furlong distance of this race will hinder her. Dubai Escapade proved to be quite vulnerable last time when she finished sixth of seven as the 1-5 favorite in the Princess Rooney. Even so, she will probably be overbet by her fan club, which made her the heavy favorite in each of her five previous U.S. starts at odds ranging from a low of 1-5 to a high of 6-5.

For the benefit of chalk lovers everywhere, there are also a few reasons to stick with Dubai Escapade. First is her consistency. She has won five of six races on the dirt. She might also be the speed of the speed in this race. Stormy Kiss likes to lead, but the fractions she set in her last two races were mild. Indian Flare has enough early speed to duel with Dubai Escapade if she is asked to do so, but she proved that she was willing to slow down during the early stages in both of her races since her return from a layoff on June 30, so she might just allow Dubai Escapade to get loose early, which would give the favorite a very easy trip.

If you are willing to bet against Dubai Escapade, who do you want to use to try to beat her? Stormy Kiss was all out to hold off the closing kick of Malibu Mint despite assistance from a soft pace. Stormy Kiss will have to work harder on Sunday, so regression is likely. Optimists will argue that Indian Flare is rounding into form and should be ready for a big try third time back from the layoff. On the other hand, she set a slow pace in her last win, and defeated a much softer group than the one she will face in this race.

I am going with Malibu Mint. She won a key race at Calder impressively on July 15, with Dubai Escapade finishing 9 1/2 lengths behind her, then nearly overcame a slow pace when she finished a neck behind Stormy Kiss last time. The fractions will be stronger today, and if Dubai Escapade surrenders at low odds, this off-the-pace runner will be a serious threat to capitalize.