01/29/2009 12:00AM

Magna 5 offers challenge, handsome reward


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - I never paid much attention to the Magna 5 in past years due to the exorbitant cost, but now that they've dropped it to $1 and thus made it 50 percent cheaper to play, it's worth a look on the off chance of having an occasional good idea to construct a play around.

The first Magna 5 of the season came back $52,709 (for $2) last weekend, roughly five times the parlay - and that was with a universal single at $2.80 and another easy-to-have favorite at $4.80. Of course, you did have to come up with All Smiles, the $41.20 upset winner in the Nellie Morse at Laurel Park, and It's a Bird ($24) in the Sunshine Millions Classic.

They didn't make it easy this week: The sequence encompasses a small stakes going six furlongs on dirt at Laurel, a mile turf race for maidens at Santa Anita, the Donn Handicap once around the oval at Gulfstream Park, a tap-tap-tap across the Tapeta surface at Golden Gate Fields, and the whole shebang winds up with a dozen maidens going 6 1/2 furlongs on the Pro-Ride back at Santa Anita.

Initial thoughts:

Leg A: Seven 3-year-olds entered the Dancing Count at Laurel, the key point of discussion being Mr. Fantasy, a New York-bred colt who whistled under confident handling in his debut at Aqueduct about five weeks ago. A half-brother to Tin Cup Chalice (whose 8 wins from 10 starts included the Albany and the Indiana Derby around two turns last year), Mr. Fantasy had a scheduled sprint start at the BigoA snowed out Wednesday and was entered back at 1 1/16 miles at that track Sunday. As fate would have it, though, he drew the far outside post in a field of 10, so it stands to reason that Kiaran McLaughlin, in looking for the best way to get this colt to the Grade 3 Gotham on March 7, may opt for this spot.

Among his five rivals, the chief opposition is Russell Road, who dominated the juvenile scene at Charles Town last fall, winning five straight races by more than 40 lengths.

Leg B: I'd be lying to say anything definitive about this group of maiden fillies, other than it looks like a good "spread" situation.

The Legal Blonde and Dailies were separated by less than two lengths under similar circumstances Jan. 8, and they have the benefit of a race over the course. But among those two, I'd be inclined to take Dailies (on the rail) and forsake The Legal Blonde from the far outside.

The first-time starters to use are Stormy Slew, a half-sister to stakes-winning stablemates Slew's Tiznow and Slew's Tizzy; and Sweet Thoughts, the first runner out of the champion juvenile filly Sweet Catomine.

Leg C: I'm trying to side-step Albertus Maximus in his first start off a win in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile, over a Pro-Ride surface that played kindly to closers; he is lengths better on synthetic than on conventional dirt, and the Donn's distance is beyond his best.

The Donn contains three horses with good past history over the track: A. P. Arrow was third to Invasor in the '06 Donn and a close second last year; Sir Whimsey won the Gulfstream Park Handicap last year with a career-best Beyer Speed Figure; and Einstein's two career wins on wet tracks include a seven-length triumph in a sloppy off-the-turf allowance in '06.

But narrowed-down tickets should probably take a stand with Arson Squad, the '06 Swaps winner, who couldn't get out of his own way in seven starts on synthetic tracks that spanned over a year. He immediately recaptured his form in two starts back on dirt last fall, however, and might have won the Cigar Mile with a better trip.

Leg D: Honestly, I couldn't tell you the last time I watched a race from Golden Gate with any idea what was going on.

The trio coming off the best last-out Beyer (all 85s) are tough to gauge: Warren's Pepe had an easy lead wiring an easier group from the rail (on the rail again); Old Ed beat an even softer bunch and looks like a bounce prospect; and Trick of the North is dropping to a new low in his first start since last June.

Anyone with a clue is invited to sound like a genius: dlitfin@aol.com.

Leg E: Assuming someone has successfully navigated me through Golden Gate, all that remains is to find the winner of the anchor leg, a maiden special for 3-year-olds over the Pro-Ride.

The obvious inclusions among the experienced runners are Keep Thinking (fourth behind a trio of next-out winners, notably San Rafael winner The Pamplemousse), Pauper's Prize, and Valkyrie Missile.

A best-case scenario also would find me alive to new shooters Right One, a full brother to Pretty Carina, a two-time sprint winner in New York for the same connections last summer; and Gold Schleiger, a fast-working half to the $200,000 earner Pro Pink.