02/05/2002 1:00AM

Nanogram can score at a price on hillside


ARCADIA, Calif. - In choosing the path of least resistance, Ask Me No Secrets and Beefeater Baby may have run into a roadblock Thursday at Santa Anita.

Nominated to Saturday's Grade 2 La Canada Stakes, in which they would have been overshadowed by Affluent, Ask Me No Secrets and Beefeater Baby instead retreat into the allowance ranks Thursday. Trouble is, course specialist Nanogram is waiting to score an upset in the seventh-race feature.

Eleven fillies and mares entered the $54,000 allowance/optional $80,000 claimer, and it is easy to build a case in support of either favorite. Ask Me No Secrets has won two of three starts, including her debut on this course in October. Beefeater Baby has won two of five, her two downhill races producing a debut victory and a runner-up finish in her comeback three weeks ago.

They are both qualified and obvious, just the type of racehorse in whom unimaginative bettors take comfort. In searching for the elusive wagering philosophy of "value," however, a horseplayer could do worse than back a middle-priced contender who has been pointed specifically for the race in question. When the horse is both qualified and inconspicuous, good things can happen at the betting window.

Nanogram has won two of 15, an unremarkable record that belies her true ability. "If the turf is fast, that's her game," trainer John Sadler said.

No one knew it when Sadler put Nanogram on turf for the first time in March 2000. Racing on the Santa Anita hill, she responded with a $152 win mutuel. A fluke? As it turns out, no.

Although Nanogram floundered in three subsequent starts under less-than-ideal conditions, Sadler finally found another firm-turf sprint at Santa Anita in April 2001 and Nanogram delivered with an impressive N1X allowance win. Sadler had to wait until the autumn Oak Tree meet before finding another downhill sprint on firm going. Despite a class disadvantage in the Grade 3 Sen. Ken Maddy Handicap, Nanogram finished second at 16-1.

"She doesn't like the soft turf, and I probably placed her too high last time," Sadler said, explaining away poor efforts last winter and her seventh-place finish Dec. 31 in the Grade 3 Monrovia.

On Thursday, Nanogram faces allowance company, in a firm-turf downhill sprint, for the first time in nine months. Garrett Gomez rides Nanogram, who would be an overlay at 5-1 or higher.

Owned and bred by Leon Rasmussen, Millard, and Esprit De Corps, Nanogram has earned $127,320 from her 15 starts.

In addition to likely favorites Ask Me No Secrets and Beefeater Baby, Nanogram's main rivals include Walts Wharf, La Picara, Langoureuse, and Slew City Liz.

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