01/12/2006 12:00AM

One favorite to avoid, another to use


OZONE PARK, N.Y - Assessing the favorite is perhaps the single most important aspect of pick-four wagering. Rock-solid chalk can anchor a play while keeping costs under control, while betting around vulnerable favorites can lead to meaningful payoffs when they cooperate by biting the dust.

For weekend warriors looking to formulate their Saturday pick-four strategies, stakes races at Aqueduct and Fair Grounds-at-Louisiana Downs provide examples of each.

In the Affectionately Handicap at Aqueduct, Bohemian Lady is the morning-line favorite and may wind up at odds-on in a six-horse field with five betting interests, but she is worth taking a shot against.

Bohemian Lady is a logical enough proposition to win the 1 1/16-mile Affectionately. Her best race is a bit better than the others, her form toward the end of 2005 was good, and the rainy forecast for the New York area probably helps her cause. She has run three times on wet tracks and has never been worse than second, including a lengthy triumph in the Cicada at 3, and a runner-up finish with the best Beyer Speed Figure of her career at Gulfstream Park last winter.

But even when Bohemian Lady received that 102 Beyer last Jan. 28, the running line was part of a pattern that she has exhibited consistently: attaining the lead at the stretch call but failing to hold it to the wire.

Most horseplayers - and virtually all trainers, for that matter - tend to anthropomorphize more than is necessary in trying to explain the unexplainable. But if such a thing as having a nose for the wire exists among Thoroughbreds, Bohemian Lady does not have one. That Gulfstream race was not the first time Bohemian Lady had coughed up a lead in the red zone, nor was it the last. She had already snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in the Dearly Precious (on Aqueduct's inner track) and the La Troienne as a 3-year-old, and coming into the Affectionately she has been nailed three times in a row, at three distances and on three different tracks.

Add to this the fact that Bohemian Lady wore front bandages for the first time in the 10-furlong Ladies Handicap and ran as hard as she could, yet still fell off several lengths from her two preceding Beyers, and the handwriting for an upset is on the wall.

A different situation exits in the all-stakes pick four at Louisiana Downs, where the favorite for the third leg, the Bayou Breeders' Cup Handicap on the turf, is a standout in terms of class and late speed.

As Grade 3 races go, the Bayou's purse of $250,000 is comparatively lofty, because races of this caliber generally offer anywhere from $100,000 to $150,000 or so.

Snowdrops is in line for a nice payday.

As a multiple graded-stakes winner, Snowdrops is far and away the most accomplished grass runner in the field. She has won over six turf courses - seven if you count the old and new courses at Gulfstream - so the locally based runners she meets here, none of whom has won a graded stakes on the grass, are at no great advantage in terms of the home court. Snowdrops has never raced at Louisiana Downs, but in late fall of 2003 she did ship from Calder to Fair Grounds to win the Pago Hop Stakes, so she has proved her ability to ship to Louisiana and win.

An edge in class and late speed is a potent combination in turf routes. In winning the My Charmer at Calder last out, Snowdrops gained more than three lengths into a final three-eighths clocked in a searing 34.95 seconds, and went from fifth to first through a final furlong in 11.21 seconds. That is motoring. Unable to contain her at the finish were La Reina, who earlier in the fall was beaten a mere two lengths by Intercontinental in the WinStar Galaxy at Keeneland; Ticker Tape, a Grade 1 winner of more than $1.3 million; and Sand Springs, a three-time graded-stakes winner in 2005, including the Grade 1 Diana.