06/22/2003 11:00PM

No clear choices in this puzzle


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - With the pick six pool at Churchill Downs likely to surpass $1 million Wednesday, handicappers throughout North America will be pulling out all the stops to try to slay the monster. Post time for the fifth race, the first leg of the pick six, is 3:25 p.m. Eastern.

Here is a quick rundown of each of the pick six races:

Race 5: South Christian might deserve to be a lukewarm favorite despite an unspectacular effort May 22; at least the colt has decent early speed, a trait noticeably lacking in this big field. Other logical contenders include Favorite Magic, The Craftsman, and also-eligible Jaycejace. The fringe players are Nippert, Unleash the Law, Elegant Ambassador, and This is Doc.

Race 6: Considering his 3-2-0 record from 10 Churchill starts, Lush probably deserves to be the favorite, although his last two races and post 10 are among the many reasons why a lot of players will spread here. Gala Bear is very dangerous if he can return to his best form. Focus on Marty tends to fare okay at this bottom $5,000 level. Eldoret, Eccentric Tycoon, and even Apalachee Island seem worth considering.

Race 7: Dancin Rahy immediately catches the eye by dropping down for $12,500 after most recently winning for $15,000. But many fans may see the layoff of six-plus weeks as a warning sign, and his all-or-nothing tendencies are a little scary, too. Some bettors might be more comfortable with the Joe Woodard-trained entry, or Northern Catch, a recent claim by Mike Maker. Mannie's Mistake, Toomuchinformation, and Boone'ssimplydest also could be used.

Race 8: Assuming this stays on grass - and there is very little chance of rain through Wednesday - then Formal Decree and Here's to Andrew will scratch. Fans then will be faced with a decision of whether Shake the Bank can go gate to wire as he did in a May 8 maiden romp. The temporary inner rail is almost always placed well out onto the turf course on weekdays, which has a tendency to favor speed horses. For the record, May 8 was a Thursday. If Shake the Bank falters, as he did in the Grade 3 Jefferson Cup (run on a Saturday, when the temporary rail is not used), then Groovy Chief or Double Slam appear to be the most logical threats.

Race 9: Sultry Sal and Halory Leigh, the fillies who dueled to the bitter end of a high-end claiming race June 5, probably will draw the most action on this token raise to an entry-level allowance, but just like the four races preceding this, there are plenty of options here. Chirimoya has a bridesmaid look to her but nevertheless attracts steady backing. Padmore gets Pat Day when making just her second star in four months for trainer Tony Reinstedler, who is having an outstanding meet.

Race 10: Both Adreamisborn and Rowans Park hail from winning stables, and both seem capable of handling this 1 1/2-mile distance; the only other plausible contender is Steady Streak.

Certified carryover

It was just two races into the pick six Sunday that the bet looked like a sure thing to carry over.

Conto de Natal, who had lost his first 18 races before winning a maiden claiming race at Mountaineer Park in his last start, won the sixth race - the second leg of the pick six - with surprising ease, drawing off by 4 1/4 lengths. He returned $62.40 as the second longest shot in a field of nine.

With no favorites winning any of the pick six races, there were only four winning consolation tickets Sunday. Five of six was worth $19,103 for each $2 ticket.

Conto de Natal not only helped the pick six survive another day, but he also led the eighth-highest superfecta payoff in track history. One $1 ticket swept the entire pool with the 6-4-9-7 combination, which paid $62,037.90.

The huge upset wasn't the first at Churchill for Conto de Natal's trainer. A 5-year-old gray gelding, Conto de Natal is trained by Lexington-based Don Combs, who saddled Dust Commander to win the 1970 Kentucky Derby at 15-1.

The highest superfecta payoff in track history was the $91,764.50 payoff on the 2002 Derby, won by War Emblem.

Mineshaft to Suburban

Trainer Neil Howard said Sunday that he intends to run handicap star Mineshaft in the July 5 Suburban Handicap at Belmont Park, a choice that likely means the colt will be given a brief timeout afterward and will miss the Aug. 2 Whitney Handicap at Saratoga.

Howard initially was leaning toward skipping the Suburban and waiting for the Whitney, but said Sunday he believed Mineshaft was doing so well that "it might be better to go ahead and keep him on the trend he's on now, run him in the Suburban, and then back off.

"We could give him the rest of July to freshen up, then pick up the pace again sometime in the first week in August and then point toward the Woodward, the Jockey Club Gold Cup, or whatever," Howard said.

The $500,000 Suburban is a Grade 1 race at 1 1/4 miles. The $750,000 Whitney is a Grade 1 at 1 1/8 miles.

Mineshaft has developed into one of the top handicap horses in North America, having won three stakes races this year, including the Grade 1 Pimlico Special in May. In his last start, Mineshaft was odds-on when narrowly beaten by Perfect Drift in the June 14 Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill.

Monday, Mineshaft had his first breeze since the Foster, going an easy half-mile in 50.60 seconds over a fast Churchill track.

Meanwhile, Howard said Midway Road, who finished third after a considerable amount of traffic trouble Saturday in the Ohio Derby, "slightly displaced his soft palate" during the race. Howard said the colt would remain in training, although he does not have a specific next race in mind.

Ipi Tombe to make U.S. debut

Elliott Walden said Monday that the international superstar Ipi Tombe will make her United States debut here Saturday in the $150,000 Locust Grove Handicap, the lone stakes race here this weekend.

Ipi Tombe will carry 123 pounds, including rider Pat Day, in the Grade 3 Locust Grove, a 1 1/8-mile turf race that Walden is using as the mare's lone prep for the Aug. 16 Beverly D. at Arlington Park. Walden had considered races at several other tracks before settling on the Locust Grove.

A winner in 11 of 13 starts, Ipi Tombe, a 5-year-old bred in the African country of Zimbabwe, has drawn acclaim throughout the racing world. Her last race was a three-length win over males in the $2 million Dubai Duty Free. Shortly after that March 29 race, she was transferred into Walden's care at Churchill.

'General' wins, Saratoga next

The victory by Mountain General in the Grade 3 Aristides Handicap here Saturday underscored a recurring theme of winning geldings at the spring meet.

Mountain General, a 5-year-old, followed in the footsteps of two more notable geldings to win Grade 1 races at the meet: Funny Cide in the Kentucky Derby and Perfect Drift in the Foster.

Scott Blasi, assistant to trainer Steve Asmussen, said Sunday that Mountain General will race next at Saratoga, most likely in the Aug. 10 Alfred Vanderbilt at six furlongs.

One other Asmussen star, the unbeaten 2-year-old Cuvee, worked five furlongs in 59.80 seconds Monday at Churchill in preparation for the Bashford Manor Stakes on the July 6 closing-day card.

As for Perfect Drift, trainer Murray Johnson said Saturday that the July 13 Hollywood Gold Cup will be the next race for the 4-year-old gelding.

- When Churchill gave away Secretariat bobblehead dolls Saturday, the lines of people waiting at the two entrance gates when the track opened were estimated at nearly a mile long. According to track officials, the first arrivals came at about 6 a.m., some 5 1/2 hours before the track opened.

Vouchers for the 7,500 dolls were gone in 40 minutes. The allure of the bobbleheads lifted attendance to 15,567, which was 37 percent more than the corresponding date in 2002.