05/26/2005 12:00AM

Molto Vita preferred over Ebony Breeze

Bill Straus
The six-furlong distance of the Winning Colors may work to Molto Vita's advantage.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Saturday's Winning Colors Stakes at Churchill Downs is, like many ungraded dirt sprint stakes, short on numbers and short on value. Only six fillies and mares were entered in the six-furlong race, making attractive odds difficult to find.

The race appears to boil down to a matchup between graded stakes winners Ebony Breeze and Molto Vita. Ebony Breeze, a recent allowance winner, is the lone closer in a race loaded with speed. Molto Vita is seemingly the class of the race, having run second in the Grade 1 Humana Distaff at Churchill on the Kentucky Derby undercard.

The remainder of the field consists of Revolutionary Act, a Turfway specialist who has struggled at Churchill; Heavenly Humor, the sixth-place finisher from the Humana Distaff; Fly Away Angel, a three-other-than allowance winner May 3; and Born to Dance, who ran second to Ebony Breeze in an allowance prep for this race May 5.

Virtually all of them want to race on the lead or within close attendance of the pace, which will likely result in the late-running Ebony Breeze going off as a slight favorite over Molto Vita. The public is likely to reason that she will sit the dream trip.

They will also likely pound her off an allowance race in which she beat Grade 1 winner Lady Tak, a race that may have been a bit phony. Lady Tak, making her first start of the year, ran like a short horse, fading to finish a bad third in the drive. Ebony Breeze caught Lady Tak on the right day.

Molto Vita similarly benefited in finishing second in the Humana Distaff when favored Madcap Escapade tired unexpectedly in the final furlong to finish fifth. In essence, Molto Vita finished second in a Grade 1 race that fell apart.

What I liked about her effort, though, was that she chased Madcap Escapade's taxing early pace, and still managed to be a factor, losing by three-quarters of a length to My Trusty Cat. With Molto Vita going a shorter distance in the six-furlong Winning Colors, it is difficult to picture a hot pace wiping her out.

A resilient mare, Molto Vita won the Thoroughbred Club of America at Keeneland on a week's rest. A reasonably quick return on three weeks' rest should not compromise her performance. She's a play if not the favorite.

Of the others, Heavenly Humor looks like the best alternative to Molto Vita and Ebony Breeze if they are grossly overbet.

Guidry flying under the radar

The Churchill jockey colony is the deepest in recent memory, with Hall of Famers Gary Stevens and Mike Smith now a part of a talented cast of regulars, led by Pat Day and Rafael Bejarano. Perhaps because of their presence, some other gifted riders have not quite gotten the respect from horsemen and the betting public that they deserve.

Mark Guidry comes to mind. After returning from California during Derby week, he has been sensational here, going 12 for 40, to place sixth in the standings through Wednesday. No other rider in the top 10 in the standings has ridden so few horses.

He has the benefit of riding for the powerful Dale Romans stable - going 8 for 22 for that barn through Wednesday. But even his numbers for other trainers - 4 for 18 - translate to more than 22 percent winners.

Guidry places his mounts well, and his power is evident, particularly when he goes to a left-handed stick. Horses with Guidry aboard deserve extra consideration.

Besides the Romans-Guidry combination, there have been other high-percentage trainer-jockey duos this meet. Bob Holthus and John McKee have combined to go 8 for 33, and David Vance and Corey Lanerie have gone 4 for 13 together.

Vance-Lanerie have generated a $3.97 return on investment together this meet; Holthus-McKee have a $4.15 ROI; and Romans-Guidry have a $5.70 ROI. Vance and Lanerie figure to catch on least with the betting public and may offer the best long-term value.

A category to bet against

There is a cliche that says that things that look too good to be true usually are. I've found that to be often accurate of horses popular at the claims box. More often than not, a horse that everyone wants turns out to disappoint.

Of the numerous horses that have been won in "shakes" this meet, five have returned - with one winner, that being Mean Kisser ($3.40) in a starter allowance May 21.

Of the others, Amber Jule ran fifth at 7-2 odds May 14; Chicken Soup Kid ran a distant fifth at 9-5 on May 15; Surprise Call ran second at 3-5 on May 18; and Estrela Pegasus ran fourth in the second race Thursday at 4-1.

In all five cases, including that of Mean Kisser, these horses ran lower Beyer Speed Figures than what they posted on the day they were claimed.

Occasionally, good claims come out of instances in which there are shakes. I would rather bet against these types, however, knowing they tend to underperform at short prices.

How do you know if a claimed horse has been won in a shake? Churchill Downs posts a claim register on its website, as do many racetracks, which lists information on claimed horses.