08/03/2006 12:00AM

Pick four opportunity anchored by Gardenia


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The best race Saturday is undoubtedly the Grade 1 Whitney at Saratoga - which features a showdown between Flower Alley and Invasor, two stars of the older handicap division. But unless those two well-backed horses are upset, it is not a race that figures to produce a big payoff.

A more favorable wagering opportunity is present on Saturday at Ellis Park in the form of an all-stakes pick four linking the Anna M. Fisher for 2-year-old fillies (race 7), the James C. Ellis Juvenile for 2-year-old colts (8), the Regaey Island for 3-year-old turf horses (9), and the Grade 3 Gardenia for fillies and mares (10).

Here is how I plan to play the bet, race by race:

Anna M. Fisher: I love a filly in the opening leg - Cowgirls Don't Cry (No. 11), whom I will single on my tickets. Interestingly, she was sold for $105,000 in May at the Fasig Tipton Midlantic 2-year-olds in training sale at Timonium, Md., after she had won a maiden race at Keeneland in her second start.

Turned over to trainer Todd Pletcher, she made her first start for her new owner, Jeff Singer, and delivered a powerful runner-up finish in the Prairie Meadows Lassie in Iowa July 3. Sixth for much of the race, she finished strong to fall a length short of Sea the Joy, a promising filly who has won two of three starts.

On Saturday Cowgirls Don't Cry stretches out from the five-furlong distance of the Lassie to seven furlongs in the Anna Fisher, added ground that should be to her benefit. With plenty of speed in the field, she should get the pace she needs for her late run to be effective.

James C. Ellis Juvenile: I will go three deep in this leg, taking, in order of preference, Trophy Road (3), Tis a Man (1), and Commander Choice (2).

Trophy Road is similar to Cowgirls Don't Cry in that he owns the top last-race Beyer Speed Figure in the field, but because it came at River Downs the public might not give him the respect he deserves.

That would be a mistake given how well he performed in that July 2 race. Making his second start, he rolled to a 10 1/4-length victory against fellow Ohio-breds. The performance earned him a 77 Beyer.

He does not act like your typical Ohio-bred. Before his maiden victory at River Downs, he worked a half-mile at Churchill Downs Trackside in 46.20 seconds. And he has subsequently trained well, breezing five furlongs in a bullet 1:00.60 there July 28.

Tis a Man also merits respect despite the fact that he is still a maiden. A $550,000 purchase earlier this year, he closed to be fourth in his debut at Churchill Downs July 16. Third-place finisher Officer Rocket returned to win a maiden race at Arlington by 5 1/2 lengths July 30.

And Commander Carson will also be on my pick four tickets, having won a maiden race at Ellis Park by 6 1/2 lengths July 22.

Regaey Island: Contention runs deep in this $50,000 stakes for 3-year-old turf horses, with most of the entrants coming off similar efforts in the allowance ranks.

My top choice is Sea of Trees (1), whom I will use in the pick four along with Equal Opportunity (5), a graded stakes dropper.

Making his first start on turf June 29 in a first-level allowance at Churchill Downs, Sea of Trees rallied from sixth to defeat Polarity by 1 1/4 lengths. That earned him an 87 Beyer, among the best recent figures in the field.

What I liked most about his race was not how fast he ran, but the manner in which he won. Sea of Trees sat four lengths behind a slow pace, and jockey Robby Albarado nudged him along on the far turn to engage the leaders. The colt responded with a sustained rally.

With more speed in this field, his new rider, Brice Blanc, should be able to sit chilly with him until late - though it is good to know that he could adapt to slow fractions if needed.

Equal Opportunity, last of eight in the Grade 3 Arlington Classic June 3, should fare much better against softer. He won the Awad Stakes at Arlington in his preceding race, a race that earned him a 92 Beyer, the top figure in this race.

Gardenia: Prospective Saint (8), second to Malibu Mint in the Grade 1 Princess Rooney at Calder July 15, is a deserving favorite and the most likely winner of the Gardenia. I'll use her in the pick four but also throw two others on my tickets, Maggie Slew (2) and Beau Watch (9).

It is difficult to fault Prospective Saint's top races. In addition to her runner-up finish in the Princess Rooney, she has won three stakes. She also ran second in the Grade 2 Chilukki Stakes at Churchill Downs last fall. That race, like the Gardenia, is run at a mile.

What concerns me about Prospective Saint is her history of throwing in clunkers from time to time, hence the use of two other mares on my tickets. Sometimes she doesn't show up in the stretch - she has been beaten by 12 lengths or more four times in her last 14 starts.

Maggie Slew, the last foal born out of Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew, is an interesting entrant. A 3-year-old in light at 112 pounds, she comes off a runner-up finish in the Grade 3 Iowa Oaks and seems well suited to cutting back to a mile.

The fast Beau Watch has earned Beyers of 93 or higher in three of her last four starts on fast tracks.

The Wager: I'll play two tickets, one using all the horses outlined above, and another using only Prospective Saint in Gardenia. This will double the payoff if that horse, the likely favorite, wins.

* $2 pick four: 11 with 3,1,2 with 1,5 with 8,2,9

* $2 pick four: 11 with 3,1,2 with 1,5 with 8

The first ticket costs $36, the second $12, for a total play of $48.