10/07/2008 12:00AM

Play exotics with Bittel Road on top

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - As a racing fan, watching a race with a close, highly competitive finish can be very exciting. But as a bettor, there's a lot more to be said for a race that provides you with a selection who appears to have at least a 50 percent chance of winning, perhaps decisively if things go well - the type you can key in the top slot in the exotics. If you can manage to win with at least half of them, you should have a pretty good chance at making money with your exotic bets.

Keeneland's Grade 3 Woodford Reserve Bourbon looks like that kind of a race. Put a dozen lightly raced

2-year-olds in a 1 1/16-mile turf race and you might logically expect chaos to ensue. But if it does in this race, it seems more likely to happen in the minor slots in the exacta, trifecta, or superfecta than in the win slot.

Bittel Road is my selection to win. He debuted in a six-furlong turf sprint at Belmont and scored by 3 1/4 lengths without being asked for his best effort in deep stretch. Trainer Todd Pletcher gave him seven weeks between races, then challenged him with a jump in class to tackle stakes company, while also stretching out from six furlongs to 1 1/16 miles on the grass. He was in contention most of the way, lost position on the far turn, then rallied back gamely to win by a head. That was an impressive performance for an inexperienced colt.

Normally, the move from an ungraded stakes race to a Grade 3 stakes would present some serious challenges, but this field appears to be unexceptional. Bittel Road is the only stakes winner in the race. Only four of his 11 opponents have faced stakes company, including one who finished fifth, 7 3/4 lengths behind Bittel Road in his stakes win. Three of his opponents are exiting maiden wins, and two others are still maidens.

The possible scenarios in the minor exotic slots are wide open. Appalachian Trail is a candidate to fill one of them after a third-place finish on the grass in the Miller Lite Cradle Stakes last time. Just Like Biscuit was only a head behind Appalachian Trail in the Cradle, then was fourth on Turfway's Polytrack in the Grade 3 Kentucky Cup Juvenile. Giant Oak is 2 for 2, including a win in a $50,000 optional claiming race last time, but he faced just three other horses in that race. Driving Snow finished third in a listed stakes in Ireland, then was a non-threatening fourth in a Group 2 stakes. Ninth Client was no match for Bittel Road while checking in fifth in the With Anticipation stakes, but he can be more of a threat if he comes closer to matching the form he showed while dead-heating for a maiden special victory in his debut. Har D Boy and Ghost Five both ran career-best races in their first start on grass. Jack Spratt was a troubled third behind Just Like Biscuit in his debut, then finished second with a solid 70 Beyer second time out. Albin was carried wide when he finished third behind Giant Oak in his debut. Vaquero graduated at Turfway third time out, and is bred to improve on the turf. Dynamic Force will have to improve to make his presence felt.

The Grade 1 Juddmonte Spinster appears to be more competitive, but Unbridled Belle deserves top billing. She won three times, finished second once, and was third twice in her last seven graded stakes races. Her lone off-the-board finish during that streak came last year in the Breeders' Cup Distaff, but I won't hold that against her because she suffered through traffic trouble and might not have liked the sloppy track.

There are at least a couple of opponents who can be serious threats. Carriage Trail ran a career-best race when she finished second behind Wait a While in the Grade 2 Ballston Spa Handicap last time at Saratoga. Wait a While flattered her by winning the Grade 1 Yellow Ribbon at Oak Tree in her next start, but it isn't clear exactly how much Carriage Trail was flattered, since Wait a While regressed from a 105 Beyer in her win at Saratoga to a 97 Beyer in her victory at Oak Tree. Nevertheless, another top try from Carriage Trail would give her a chance for an upset.

Wake Up Maggie won a restricted stakes at Del Mar in her return from a layoff, and might continue to improve in the second race of her form cycle.