04/19/2007 12:00AM

Lexington suits Sacrifice Bunt


NEW YORK - All the major preps for the May 5 Kentucky Derby might be completed, but Saturday's Grade 2, $325,000 Lexington Stakes at Keeneland has an outside shot of producing a longshot starter or two in the Derby. Elsewhere, Santa Anita and Hawthorne offer events for fillies and mares - the Grade 2, $200,000 Santa Barbara and the Grade 3, $250,000 Sixty Sails Handicap.

Lexington Stakes

Belgravia will likely be favored off a debut victory over Keeneland's Polytrack last fall, followed by two decent stakes efforts in Southern California late last year, including a narrow win. But Belgravia will be making his first start in four months after needing time to recover from illness. And even though his trainer, Patrick Biancone, is very adept at bringing horses back off layoffs, I don't want Belgravia off a layoff as the favorite, especially when it is now fair to question the strength of the horses he competed against in California. I'm also against Soaring By and Forty Grams, who are the second and third favorites in the morning line. Although speed held a bit better Wednesday at Keeneland, it is still far from the preferred running style there, and both Soaring By and Forty Grams like to operate on or close to the early lead.

I like Sacrifice Bunt to take this field at a square price. He has the closing style I'm looking for, and his last two races are better than they appear on paper. Last time out, Sacrifice Bunt finished fourth in the Illinois Derby, but his late kick was compromised by a very slow early pace. Two starts back, he had early trouble in a hot allowance race that saw the winner, Chelokee, come back to finish a troubled third in the Florida Derby, and the third finisher, Sightseeing, finish a vastly improved second to Nobiz Like Shobiz in the Wood Memorial. Before that, Sacrifice Bunt came from way back to beat a good maiden field at Gulfstream, and when he began his career last fall at Keeneland, he handled Polytrack reasonably well.

Santa Barbara Handicap

Live Life has been away since October and her two most recent races look ugly on paper, but she is still the play.

There were extenuating circumstances when Live Life was badly beaten in her last two. When she was 10th in the E. P. Taylor, she caught the kind of soft footing she had not seen since her early, unsuccessful racing days in France. When she was eighth in the Yellow Ribbon, she took up sharply nearing the stretch. But Live Life is effective when on her game, as evidenced by her on-the-board finishes last year in the Beverly Hills Handicap and Beverly D. Stakes. And as for the layoff, Live Life last year won at this 1 1/4-mile distance off a similar break when she began her U.S. career.

Sixty Sails Handicap

Normally, I wouldn't feature a race with only five entrants, because betting value is often more difficult to find in short fields. But short fields are something of a theme in a few of Saturday's most prominent stakes events (the Bed o' Roses also attracted a field of five, and the National Jockey Club lured only four entrants), and there are times when betting value isn't strictly defined by a double-digit win payoff.

I like Mo Cuishle in this spot. Even though Mo Cuishle's odds won't be great, simply because she is a Todd Pletcher-John Velazquez production, her price will be acceptable. That is because of the presence of Rolling Sea, who romped at odds-on at Fair Grounds in her last three, and Kettleoneup, who hasn't been worse than second in her last six and who just missed last time out in the Azeri Breeders' Cup. Not only is Mo Cuishle good enough to win this off her score in last summer's Monmouth Breeders' Cup Oaks and the expectation she will improve off a third in her seasonal debut, she is - unless she falls on her head coming out of the gate - the absolute controlling speed.