07/29/2009 11:00PM

Monty's Best a price play in W.Va. Derby


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - In initially handicapping the West Virginia Derby on Wednesday, my feeling was that it would make a fine race to watch Saturday - just not to bet.

The race drew only five betting interests, with seemingly the easy options being to take Derby winner Mine That Bird at 4-5, or the millionaire Big Drama at 6-5 - or something close to those chalky prices.

Then, as I continued to analyze the race Thursday, the more I started thinking there might be a value play among the group, a horse potentially sitting on a breakout race.

That horse is 10-1 shot Monty's Best, a horse with nothing more than maiden and allowance wins to his credit.

Here is what warmed me to his prospects. First, I am encouraged by the confidence shown in the colt by trainer Reade Baker to ship him to Mountaineer Park, when he easily could have opted for a more conservative option by racing him at his home base at Woodbine in Canada.

I get the feeling the Baker is itching to get this colt on dirt, though Monty's Best clearly has not shown any difficulty handling the Polytrack at Woodbine. Baker has repeatedly worked him over the dirt training track at Woodbine, and last year he shipped him to Churchill Downs - where he ran second behind Capt. Candyman Can in the one-mile Iroquois.

Secondly, Monty's Best has "paired up" Beyer Speed Figures in the low 90s in winning his two starts as a 3-year-old. Although those numbers aren't on par with the top figures of Mine That Bird and Big Drama, they should be taken as a positive sign that he didn't bounce after leaping forward in terms of figures in his first start of the year.

Furthermore, he was visually impressive in winning his latest, unleashing an eye-catching move on the second turn and edging away from 8-year-old Salty Langfuhn, a winner of 5 of 8 starts in 2008-2009, albeit in lesser company.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, I believe Monty's Best will simply slip past bettors - who will undoubtedly focus on Mine That Bird and Big Drama, believing that Mine That's Bird's class will carry him to victory or that Big Drama won't get caught in what seems to be a paceless race.

Admittedly, Monty's Best is not the most probable winner. But I would consider fair odds on him to be 8-1, and he will likely be more than that. He is the price play of the West Virginia Derby.

Cutback should suit Charitable Man

Staying with the 3-year-old boys, the Jim Dandy at Saratoga also presents a favorable wagering opportunity on Charitable Man.

Winner of the Futurity and the Peter Pan, he was surprisingly made the 4-1 third choice on the morning line - a price I doubt will stick.

Even at 3-1, Charitable Man is a solid play. The reasons are obvious - he is the only two-time stakes winner in the field; he ran a deceptively good fourth in the Belmont; and he won his only start over the Saratoga strip last year in scoring at first asking by 11 1/2 lengths.

Expect him to benefit from the cutback in distance from the 1 1/2-mile Belmont to the Jim Dandy's 1 1/8-mile distance. Hard held in the Belmont, no doubt in an effort to conserve his energy for such a long race, it seemed to neutralize his strength, which is his ability to sustain a high rate of speed. Proven at 1 1/8 miles, he can be allowed to run more freely in the Jim Dandy.

Demarcation in good spot

Saturday's Rossi Gold Stakes at Arlington also merits attention, despite its modest $50,000 purse. It drew a field of nine, and with so many horses in the race having comparable Beyer Figures, attractive odds should be found on a number of contenders.

I see vulnerability in morning-line favorite Stream Cat, who comes off a lackluster performance in the Arlington Handicap and tacks high weight of 124 pounds.

In receipt of six pounds from Stream Cat is Demarcation, who makes his third start of his form cycle after a pair of thirds at Churchill Downs on the grass in money allowances. He has been drawing the far outside and often losing ground as a result, and he drew post 3 for the Rossi Gold.

With front-running Public Speaker and late-running Stream Cat inside him, Demarcation should be able to work out a nice trip rating in midpack, no more than one or two wide into the first turn.

If so, look for him to run back to the promise he showed in dead-heating for the victory in the Grade 3 River City Handicap at Churchill Downs last November.