04/16/2009 12:00AM

Plenty of reasons to like Masala in Lexington

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Despite the quality of the field in the March 7 Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct and a brilliantly fast time posted by the victorious I Want Revenge, the race has yet to develop into a key race.

That looks about to change. Several horses exiting that race look to have winning opportunities in stakes races Saturday, including Masala in the Grade 2 Coolmore Lexington Stakes at Keeneland, suggesting one or more could join I Want Revenge as a next-out winner from the race.

Only three horses from the Gotham have subsequently raced: sixth-place Axel Foley, who was third in an allowance at Aqueduct on April 3; I Want Revenge, who as most horseplayers are aware scored a repeat victory in the Grade 1 Wood Memorial despite blowing the start and encountering traffic problems; and runner-up Imperial Council, who ran fifth in the Wood.

Masala, a 6-1 outsider on the morning line for the Lexington, could be the second winner to exit the race.

Although unable to keep pace with the top three in the Gotham, he ran deceptively well to be fourth - considering the talent in the field and how quick the race was. In so doing, he ran a 92 Beyer Speed Figure, his second highest figure behind a 95 Beyer, which was earned in running second behind Take the Points in a Gulfstream allowance race in January.

That makes him the only entrant in the 12-horse Lexington with Beyer Speed Figures in the 90s in their last two starts.

Beyond figures, there are other reasons to like Masala, not the least of which is pedigree. He is a son of Lion Heart, whose offspring have been excellent on synthetic tracks.

Secondly, trainer Todd Pletcher adds blinkers to his equipment. According to Daily Racing Form statistics, Pletcher is 16 for his last 66 with horses adding blinkers for the first time, good for a 24 percent win rate. A $2 win bet on each of those 66 runners would have yielded an average return of $2.34.

Beyond that favorable statistical angle, Masala simply looks like a horse that would benefit from blinkers. In watching his races, he has often been a colt that has needed to be put into an early drive - perhaps an indication that he is not staying focused. Blinkers might help keep his head in the game.

Naos offers value in Blue and Gold

While on the subject of the Gotham, two others exiting the race - Naos and Russell Road - are running in Saturday's $100,000 Blue and Gold Stakes at Charles Town as part of that track's blockbuster Saturday evening of stakes action.

Both are contenders, but in terms of value, I prefer Naos, who is a better price at 6-1 on the morning line. He also shows many of the same favorable angles as Masala - being a Pletcher trainee and a colt adding blinkers for the first time.

Though a well-beaten seventh in the Gotham, he had a right to regress in that race, running back on short rest after a career-best effort in winning an allowance at Philly Park in fast time in his preceding start. Beyond being outclassed in the Gotham, he bounced.

Judging by some steady, swift works, he looks ready to rebound at a price in the Blue and Gold.

Seattle Smooth the play off layoff

Turning away from the 3-year-old colts on Saturday, I'll play Seattle Smooth off a layoff in the Bed o' Roses Handicap at Aqueduct.

Being unraced since September and a filly who has performed best in routes, Seattle Smooth may be viewed by many bettors as merely prepping in the seven-furlong Bed o' Roses, and that may allow her to drift up from her 2-1 morning-line odds.

But it's my experience that classy horses can overcome a great deal, often winning at distances that aren't necessarily their best. And she certainly has class, having won two stakes to end her 2008 season, including the Grade 2 Cotillion over champion Proud Spell.

Granted, she was off the board in two sprints, but those races came in the first starts of her career, way back in spring 2007, before she began to blossom. They also came on synthetic tracks, not dirt, the surface on which she races Saturday at Aqueduct.

Furthermore, it is not the style of trainer Tony Dutrow to give his horses a race when returning routers from layoffs in sprints. According to statistics from DRF's Formulator, he is 8 for 15 over the last five years with route-to-sprint horses returning from layoffs of 180 days or more.