08/04/2008 11:00PM

Look past Black Mamba for top spot

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Handicappers who plan on betting any of the exotic wagers on Sunday's Grade 1 John C. Mabee at Del Mar will want to include Black Mamba on their tickets. This New Zealand-bred mare is a turf specialist who has finished among the first three in all nine of her U.S. races, including a victory in the Grade 2 Beverly Hills Handicap last time at Hollywood.

But while she figures to contend, that doesn't mean a bet on her is the right strategy for win bettors looking for an overlay in that pool, or for exotic bettors who want to key a runner on top with some betting value. There are a couple of reasons why you might want to try to beat Black Mamba in the top slot in this 1 1/8-mile turf race.

The first concern is that she has won just 2 of 9 races in this country, with 5 second-place finishes, and 2 thirds. That is a solid 22 percent win rate, but it isn't high enough to justify the low odds you are likely to be offered in that pool. Win bettors who played her the four times she was favored in this country collected just $4.80 on her Beverly Hills Handicap victory, which works out to a mild $1.20 average return on each $2 wager.

Black Mamba's running style is another concern. She was located fourth or farther back at the first call in all nine of those races. A check of the last six racing days at Del Mar through the end of July shows that seven of the eight winners of the turf route races run during that period were located among the first three runners at the first call. The exception was a closer who rallied to win from sixth place.

With that statistic in mind, I'll make Black Mamba my second choice, and I will lean towards other contenders in the Mabee field who have more tactical speed than she does to fill in most of the other exotic slots.

Passified was among the first three at the first call in each of her last four races, and in nine of the 11 turf routes showing in her past performances. She managed to finish only fourth in the Grade 2 CashCall Mile last time, but that was a faster field than this appears to be. Diamond Diva, the winner, earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 102 for her performance, as did Ventura, who finished second, beaten by a nose. There is no contender in this field who shows a recent triple-digit Beyer Figure, so the 97 earned by Passified in her victory in the restricted Redondo Beach two races ago and the 95 she was given for her fourth in the CashCall should place her in the thick of contention. Factor in the likelihood of a favorable trip and a square price, and I'll make her my win bet.

Solva was in contention in third early and finished second behind Black Mamba in the Beverly Hills last time. If she runs a similar race Sunday she can hold on well enough to participate in the exotics. Foxysox has occasionally found herself among the first three early in her races. The guess here is that she is capable of running a race like that in the Mabee if her connections are willing to change their usual tactics, which have often resulted in her being placed somewhere in the vicinity of midpack. Ransom Captive has enough tactical speed to be within easy striking distance early, but she will need to continue to improve as she steps up in class following an allowance win and a $62,000 optional claiming victory. Placid Lake has been consistent against softer company, but she will face an uphill battle in this Grade 1 field as she tries to take advantage of her tactical speed.

Green Lyons is a closer who finished third behind Black Mamba and Solva last time, beaten 2 3/4 lengths. She might be able to snare another minor share in the exotics. I Can See is a closer who is in tough, and will need a return to her best form to get a part.