04/16/2008 11:00PM

Price is right on Immortelle

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NEW YORK - The final starting berths to the Kentucky Derby could be up for grabs Saturday in the feature at Keeneland, the Grade 2 Coolmore Lexington Stakes.

Other noteworthy stakes include the Grade 2 Santa Barbara at Santa Anita, the Grade 2 Bed o' Roses at Aqueduct, and a pair of Grade 3 handicaps at Hawthorne, the Sixty Sails and the Bill Hartack Memorial.

Santa Barbara Handicap

This is a good betting race because there are several directions the betting public can go. Black Mamba will get support because she was a close third at the 1 1/4-mile distance last fall in the Grade 1 Yellow Ribbon behind the high-class pair of Nashoba's Key and Citronnade. Double Trouble figures to see some betting action off her win in the Grade 1 Santa Maria Handicap two starts back. So do the second- through fourth-finishers out of the recent Grade 2 Santa Ana Handicap - Immortelle, Lavender Sky, and Foxysox - all of whom ran well and were separated by just two heads after being compromised at least to some degree by a slow early pace.

While Black Mamba has been close, she hasn't actually won in her last six starts, and is coming off her weakest performance yet in this country. Double Trouble seems to be more effective on synthetic surfaces than turf. The winner will likely come from the Santa Ana trio, and the one I like is 8-1 shot Immortelle.

Immortelle was also hurt by a slow pace when second in her United States debut two starts back, and probably won't get a much stronger pace to run at this time around. But she showed more positional speed in the Santa Ana than Lavender Sky and Foxysox did, which puts her in a position Saturday to get first run at the lead. Moreover, off the way she handled this distance in her native Brazil, Immortelle might be better at this trip than her main opposition.

Coolmore Lexington Stakes

Salute the Sarge, who already has enough graded earnings to start in the Kentucky Derby, is out to prove he actually merits to run, while Atoned, Tomcito, and maybe a couple of others are trying to add to their graded earnings and crack the Derby field. Atoned and Salute the Sarge might be the first two betting favorites, and I will be looking to beat them. Atoned lost ground in the final furlong in his last four starts, something you don't want to see from an honest distance horse. Salute the Sarge did compile good 2-year-old form last year in Southern California, but he didn't show the improvement from a Beyer Figure standpoint I would have liked when he won his first start this year.

I will go with Tomcito. Although he was beaten a long way by Derby favorite Big Brown when third in the Florida Derby, Tomcito did finish ahead of subsequent Holy Bull winner Hey Byrn, and he has a right to improve, since that was his first race since November. Tomcito's ability to finish is appealing since St. Joe and Samba Rooster figure to dispute a hot pace, and he shows a sharp work over Keeneland's Polytrack.

Sixty Sails Handicap

Golden Velvet was bet over Tessa Blue when they met in last month's Rampart Handicap and finished only a length behind her while getting a trouble comment. Tessa Blue won't be much of a price at all in this race, but she does look very hard to beat.

Tessa Blue was coming off a longer layoff than Golden Velvet in the Rampart, still finished in front of her, and given the two triple-digit Beyers she earned last year, something Golden Velvet has yet to do, she has more room for improvement. Most importantly, however, Tessa Blue should be in complete control of an early pace that does not figure to be demanding.