01/18/2007 1:00AM

Look to cash with Tax Refund


NEW YORK - With next weekend's Sunshine Millions pretty much cornering the market on prominent California- and Florida-bred horses, Saturday's national stakes schedule is on the light side.

American Beauty Stakes

There is an abundance of early speed in this event in Tempting Date, Country Diva, True Tails, and Fast Deal. Even if it looked like they all could somehow avoid compromising each other's chances in an early pace battle, they are suspect for other reasons. So, bettors are likely to focus on off-the-pace types like All for Fashion, Tax Refund, and Miss Elsie. Of these three, Tax Refund looks like a strong play.

That is not to say that All for Fashion or Miss Elsie can be eliminated with confidence, because they can't. Although All for Fashion lost for the first time on dirt in her last start, she ran well finishing second in the Esplanade Stakes, and Miss Elsie compiled a series of races last year in which she ran faster, Beyer Speed Figure-wise, than just about anyone else in here. But with all the speed, I can envision All for Fashion getting shuffled back early from the 1 hole, and being farther off the pace than she has ever been. And Miss Elsie has frequently shown a tendency to stall in the final furlong after being in a position to do serious damage.

Tax Refund, meanwhile, comes into this in top form, having won her last two from off the pace over Polytrack surfaces in Kentucky. Even her fourth-place finish three starts back in the Weekend Delight Stakes was a good effort, as that race was won by Malibu Mint, who came back to win the Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes and who will likely be the favorite in the First Lady at Gulfstream. And Tax Refund's romp in the mud five starts back is noteworthy, because a poor weather forecast for Hot Springs suggests the track might be off.

First Lady Handicap

It would be nuts to say that Malibu Mint or Contrast can't win this race. In addition to her accomplishments noted above, Malibu Mint also won the Grade 1 Princess Rooney last year, handing Dubai Escapade her only defeat of the season. Contrast, who is bred to be special - being by Unbridled out of Safely Kept - has lost only once in a five-race career. Neither, however, will offer betting value, and there are just enough questions about them to try and beat them. Contrast is too lightly raced for a 5-year-old, and hasn't started since June. Malibu Mint capitalized on the closer's bias at Keeneland when she won the TCA Stakes, and when she was placed first last time out in the Top Flight Handicap after being struck by the first-place finisher's whip, she was lucky. She wasn't going to finish first.

I'm taking a shot here with Any Limit. Any Limit showed high speed in most of her races last year in New York, and two recent bullet workouts at Gulfstream suggests she retains all of her zip. That could be an asset, as there really isn't a lot of extreme speed in this race. And the Beyer Figure that Any Limit earned winning the My Flag Stakes two starts back makes her competitive, especially if Malibu Mint and Contrast don't fire their best shots.

Truly Bound Handicap

Lady Pegasus got what she wanted last time out when the Furl Sail Handicap was taken off the turf. She was sent off the 8-5 favorite off a going-away score at Churchill Downs, but promptly stopped to finish seventh of eight. And yet, I'm picking her.

Lady Pegasus's Furl Sail performance was so bad that it is probably best ignored. Especially since she's racing right back for a top barn (Bobby Frankel), finds a pace scenario where she'll be an early factor without expending too much energy, meets a group that doesn't have any killers in it, and can't help but be a much better price.