06/30/2004 11:00PM

No clear single in NTRA Pick 4


NEW YORK - Fourth of July weekend gets off to a rousing start Saturday with a bevy of important stakes races, four of which are linked in an NTRA National Pick 4 wager.

The Grade 1, $750,000 American Oaks heads a big card at Hollywood Park that also includes the Grade 1, $300,000 Triple Bend Breeders' Cup Handicap, and two other stakes races worth $100,000 each.

The $500,000 Suburban Handicap is one of two Grade 1 events Saturday at Belmont, the other being the $250,000 Prioress Stakes for 3-year-old fillies.

Among other lucrative stakes on Saturday are the $300,000 Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Breeders' Cup Handicap and the $200,000 Arlington Classic.

Here are my spotlight stakes, in order of preference, with a National Pick 4 play thrown in for good measure:

American Oaks

This is a wild, wide-open betting affair with value all over the board. I am inclined to bet against most of the local fillies coming out of the Honeymoon because first- and second-place finishers Lovely Rafaela and Western Hemisphere capitalized on a slow pace, while third- and fourth-place finishers Sagitta Ra and Ticker Tape didn't look like they stayed the shorter 1 1/8-mile distance, even if they were compromised by the slow pace.

I'm going with Misty Heights. Misty Heights is trained by Dermot Weld, who certainly knows what kind of filly it takes to win this race, because he sent out Dimitrova to win last year's American Oaks. Misty Heights won last month in Ireland stretching out to nine furlongs, and her pedigree says she will love this 1 1/4-mile distance. She is not a single when it comes to the National Pick 4, however. I would also use Dance in the Mood, because this shipper from Japan may be special; Eternal Melody, who was a creditable third against older in her U.S. debut; and Amorama, for the bust-out possibilities she offers.

As for the first three legs of the National Pick 4, I think Peace Rules and Dynever lock up the Suburban nicely. I'm going to try and pop Senor Swinger's balloon at Churchill Downs and use only Royal Spy and Perfect Soul in the Firecracker. And in the United Nations at Monmouth, I will spread with Request for Parole, Bowman Mill, Mr O'Brien, and Meteor Storm. This play is 2 by 2 by 4 by 4, or $64 for a $1 increment.


Friendly Michelle ran very big in her last two starts and is a strong play in this spot.

Friendly Michelle showed more substance than ever before winning the La Troienne two starts back at Churchill, not only surviving an intense speed duel, but also by coming back again after being passed by two opponents in upper stretch. Moreover, it was a fast effort, good enough for a Beyer Speed Figure of 98. Friendly Michelle ran back to that number when third last time out in the Acorn after disputing the pace while going a one-mile distance that is a touch beyond her scope. The cut back to six furlongs here is a natural for her, and a recent best-of-28 workout says she's ready for it.

Triple Bend

Pohave is the one to beat in a race that, remarkably, did not attract one leading member of the sprint division. I will try and beat him, mainly because Pohave looked like a cinch to get second from Cat Genius last time out in upper stretch of the True North, and then failed to gain an inch on him.

I like Revello, who was claimed for only $40,000 three starts back, but who was a dominating winner last time out in very fast time. Despite the major jump in class, Revello figures to be outside stalking speed just like he was in that huge recent win, and I look for him to score right back.