06/14/2009 11:00PM

Looking for some value in Churchill pick four


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Some bettors playing the late pick four at Churchill Downs on Saturday may choose to single Einstein in the big race of the day, the Stephen Foster Handicap. Others might choose instead to go strictly with Warrior's Reward in the Northern Dancer.

I'm going in a different direction, singling a couple others: Miss Isella in the Fleur de Lis and Hot Cha Cha in the Regret, while hoping to land a bit of a price in the Stephen Foster and Northern Dancer by not using only the morning-line favorite in each of those two races.

Here's a look at the four stakes encompassing the late pick four Saturday at Churchill Downs - a bet that can be played for a 50-cent minimum - and my strategy for betting the races.

Northern Dancer, race 8: Coming off a 113 Beyer Speed Figure in winning an allowance at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Oaks Day, a race in which he beat eventual Grade 2 Woody Stephens winner Munnings by 2 1/4 lengths, Warrior's Reward (No. 3) is the most likely winner, but not the greatest wager.

The reason? His form is too obvious.

His last race jumps out for all to see as does a second-place finish to Belmont Stakes runner-up Dunkirk in an allowance at Gulfstream Park this winter.

His morning-line odds are 6-5, but he figures to drop well below that by post time - with my estimate being around 3-5.

In light of those short odds, and the threat of a bounce off a career-best performance, he is my second selection behind Successful Dan (No. 2), a Successful Appeal gelding who has stylishly won his two starts, suggesting a bright future.

Granted, he has not faced the company of Warrior's Reward, but at 7-2 on the morning line, he offers the potential for a larger payoff.

At the price, he is the better wager. So I'll play Successful Dan to win, back him up with an exacta box with Warrior's Reward, and go two-deep in the pick four.

Fleur de Lis Handicap, race 9: Miss Isella (No. 3) didn't lose an inch of ground in closing up the fence to win the Grade 2 Louisville Distaff on Oaks Day, but don't make the mistake of thinking she was a perfect-trip winner. She was placed in tight quarters entering the stretch and bumped repeatedly with the previously unbeaten One Caroline. But rather than get discouraged, she grew more determined.

She loves the Churchill Downs track, where she is 4 for 6, and jockey Calvin Borel seems to bring out the best in her.

Against a softer field than the one she faced in the Louisville, she is a single in the pick four.

Stephen Foster Handicap, race 10: If Einstein (No. 3) can win the Stephen Foster, he will become the first horse to capture Grade 1 races on dirt, turf, and synthetic surfaces in consecutive starts.

This is not the best Stephen Foster field assembled in recent years, and Einstein is in peak form, having won the Big Cap in March on Pro-Ride and the Woodford Reserve on turf at Churchill in his races leading up to the Stephen Foster.

He is my top choice, but I can't confidently single him - not as the 124-pound highweight. Although his record at Churchill Downs on dirt is very good, he is, in essence, a converted turf horse.

So I'll go three deep, using him as well as Asiatic Boy (No. 7) and Arson Squad (No. 4) - accomplished dirt runners coming off poor performances in the Dubai World Cup. Both start for winning stables and have the potential to challenge if they return to peak form.

Regret, race 11: If Hot Cha Cha (No. 7) stays anywhere close to her 8-1 morning-line odds, she is one of the best plays of the day.

A talented 3-year-old filly, she won the Grade 3 Bourbonette on Polytrack this spring at Turfway Park before running second in the Grade 3 Appalachian at Keeneland and fifth in the American 1000 Guineas at Arlington.

The latter two races, which came on turf, were better than they appear on paper. Hung wide from start to finish in the Appalachian, she fell just a nose short of victory. Taking into account ground loss, she was much the best.

Then last time out in the American 1000 Guineas, she was keen and steadied along the inside in a slow-paced contest and didn't have a clear path for much of the race.

That shouldn't be the case in the Regret. She is drawn outside the obvious speed, Oculuna, and looks poised for a favorable two-wide stalking trip.

I'll single her in the pick four and play her to win at odds of 4-1 or higher.

The ticket: Using the horses outlined above, a 50-cent pick-four ticket of 2,3, with 3, with 3,7,4, with 7 results in six combinations and would cost a mere $3. I'll play it in $2 increments, a bet totaling $12.