06/15/2006 12:00AM

Love of Money can beat Brass Hat


NEW YORK - As the home of the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks, Churchill Downs can boast a few truly huge racing days during its spring-summer meeting. So it is saying something that Churchill has a program Saturday that can come close to rivaling Derby and Oaks Day, with a card that includes six stakes races worth a total of $1.75 million, topped by the $750,000 Stephen Foster Handicap.

Stephen Foster Handicap

As game as Brass Hat was when he finished second in the Dubai World Cup, and as hot as he was here at home winning three straight before that, I have a policy of betting against American-based horses when they return home after competing in the World Cup. This policy only pertains to the World Cup; American horses seem to be able to recapture good form after competing in some of the other Dubai World Cup card stakes events. But the list of American horses who ran in the World Cup, and either never regained good form, never ran again, or took forever to recapture representative form is much longer than the list of American horses who did perform at a high level soon after returning home. So for me, Brass Hat is a play against.

Love of Money has been a good horse waiting to happen for a long time, and he is the bet here. Love of Money ran a huge race early last month in the Westchester Handicap off an 11-month absence to almost hold on after carving out a scorching pace. He has been given enough time to rebound from that effort, is the main speed in this spot, and should have no trouble with the distance.

Ogden Phipps Handicap

Balletto was soundly beaten by Take D' Tour in both of her starts this year, but I believe she is in a position this time to turn the tables, and post an upset.

Take D' Tour won her last three starts in a common gallop, including a 5 1/2-length romp over Balletto in the Shuvee Handicap last time out. Yet, Take D' Tour probably won't even be the favorite. That role will likely go to Spun Sugar, who ran the best race of her life when she edged the classy Happy Ticket in the Apple Blossom in her most recent appearance.

But Balletto is an accomplished filly, too. She won the Frizette over this track at 2 in 2004, and followed with a second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. Balletto probably got nothing out of her comeback race against Take D' Tour at Gulfstream in March, so after a representative effort in the Shuvee, she is likely tighter for this. The pace might set up for Balletto's late kick as well. Take D' Tour doesn't figure to be unchallenged on the lead with the presence of Spun Sugar, Nothing But Fun, and Bending Springs.

Mint Julep Handicap

Although she only advanced from her primary allowance condition last time out, I like Sky High Flyer in this spot. Sky High Flyer won last month in her first start over the Churchill turf course, and the fact that she ran a sub-23-second final quarter-mile to get that win suggests she is primed to tackle tougher company.

In truth, Sky High Flyer is much better than the average mid-level allowance filly. She was Group 3 stakes-placed twice early in her career in Ireland, and when she was narrowly beaten in her U.S. debut, she was only edged by Louve Royale, who came back to narrowly miss in the Bewitch and win an overnight stakes. Louve Royale is also in this race, but has a tough task cutting back significantly in distance after going 1 1/2 miles in her last two.