07/26/2009 11:00PM

Plan to attack Spa's late pick four

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Barbara D. Livingston
Decelerator, who won the Debutante at Churchill for trainer D. Wayne Lukas, is one of the top contenders in the Schuylerville.

NEW YORK - Saratoga, which opens Wednesday, can be a little slice of heaven. But it can also be absolute torture when you're going bad. If you've been to Saratoga for more than a couple of days straight, then there's a good chance that you have experienced the unique thing that is a Saratoga losing streak.

Losing at Saratoga seems to play with your mind more than it does elsewhere. Since you're in a town that constantly overwhelms you with its connection to racing at every turn, you can't escape the reminders of your current handicapping. The beautiful people who are laughing and having fun seem to be laughing at your complete inability to accurately project a simple pace scenario. The beautiful horses seem to perform ugly just for the sole purpose of putting you in your place. Even the ATM hawks start smirking at you because they've made you after your third or fourth trip into their territory just today.

When you're ahead at Saratoga, there is nowhere else on the planet you would rather be. Even the beautiful people become somewhat tolerable. Okay. Maybe not. But the point at Saratoga is to jump out in front, and with that hope in mind, let's tackle a pick four on Wednesday's opening day card.

This is not the first time I have attempted this. In 2006, I made a play in the late pick four on the opening day card and took a nasty beat for a near five-figure score when the filly we needed in the Schuylerville finished second after being much the best in the running. In 2007, I made a play in the early pick four on opening day and used the $14.80 winner in the third leg and the $11.20 winner in the fourth leg, but again wound up with three of four when we missed the second leg.

Last year, I did not make a Saratoga opening day pick four play in something of a protest against an card that included four New York-bred races. But the opening day card this year is a solid one. There are only two New York-bred races, although we are fortunate that other circuits were more proactive with their 2-year-old programs. If we had to rely on New York-based juvenile fillies in the featured Schuylerville, we would have had a field of only four, including one maiden. Anyway, let's go after the late pick four on races 7 through 10.

The seventh race is one of those 2-year-old straight maiden events Saratoga is known for, with eight of the 11 entrants making their racing debuts. Without having the luxury of seeing the tote board, I have to make this a spread race. Westover Wildcat looks best of those who have raced, but I'm only using him defensively. Yes, he was sharp finishing second in his debut, but he still failed as the chalk at Philadelphia Park, and this should be a tougher race.

I would also use four of the firsters: D'bigcat, Wildcat Nation, Macjoey, and Trappe Shot. Of those four, Wildcat Nation and Trappe Shot look most interesting. Wildcat Nation is by a sire whose 2-year-olds win a good 15 percent of their debuts and is a half to the Grade 1 winner Visionaire. On the surface, Wayne Lukas, trainer of Wildcat Nation, doesn't win with many firsters. But note the Lukas-trained Decelerator, an entrant in the Schuylerville, won her debut, and his two entrants in Thursday's Sanford were both sharp finishing second in their debuts. As for Trappe Shot, he might need a race. But he is a half to two stakes winners, and he must look like a real athlete considering he sold for $850,000 only last May.

The eighth race is an entry-level allowance, and I could be perfectly happy singling Presto Change O, who hasn't raced since February but who has four straight bullet works leading to his return. Presto Change O showed fine rush-up speed before clipping heels and dumping his rider in his debut, then earned a big Beyer Figure in a maiden win with blinkers on in his second and most recent start. But for those more adventurous, Maria's Charm can be thrown in on a backup ticket in case this race falls apart late.

In the Schuylerville, the ninth race, I'm hoping four horses get me through to the finale - Hot Dixie Chick, a big figure winner of her last; Cowgirl Mally, who won her only start with a nice close; Decelerator, who made it 2 for 2 winning the Debutante; and Beautician, a good-figure winner of her debut.

The 10th race includes a dangerous dropdown in Hype, who is marooned on the also-eligible list. I'm glad about that, because now I'm comfortable with the trio of Hornung, Forest King, and Galan Fete. Hornung takes a sharp drop himself to make his first start in a conditioned claimer, and so does Galan Fete. Hornung's good synthetic track form suggests he should handle turf, while Galan Fete got acquainted with grass last time out. Forest King switches to grass with the right pedigree. He's by a good turf sire, from a dam who won on the turf and has thrown two multiple turf winners.