04/06/2009 12:00AM

Questions for favorites in pick four


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - After seven consecutive Saturdays with $250,000-guaranteed late picks fours, they kick it up a notch for Aqueduct's biggest day with a $400,000 sequence consisting of the Bay Shore, Excelsior, Wood Memorial, and Carter Handicap.

Counting entries in the last two legs, it's a competitive mine field that goes 10x8x7x7. One of those combinations is made up of morning-line choices Capt. Candyman Can (5-2 in the Bay Shore), Barrier Reef (5-2 in the Excelsior), I Want Revenge (4-5 in the Wood), and Fabulous Strike (2-1 in the Carter). While they are favored for various reasons, they all appear vulnerable to at least some extent, which raises the distinct possibility the winning combo lies somewhere in the 3,919 remaining possibilities.

Bay Shore - Capt. Candyman Can out-dueled the only other seven-furlong winner in the field, Rocketing Returns, in the Hutcheson, but it's hard to give him a definitive edge in a spot where lightly raced 3-year-olds come off good races at a half-dozen racetracks.

Taqarub, the second choice, comes out of a disappointing Fountain of Youth, but at this point it's unclear whether he just didn't like Gulfstream or if he's a need-the-lead type. It's an important question, because his Jimmy Winkfield win is fastest and it was accomplished with a final furlong of 12 seconds that suggests he can get seven furlongs.

Gato Go Win survived a pace duel to beat two-time stakes winner The Pamplemousse last fall and has been freshened since eking out third money in a four-way photo in the San Vicente. He sure looks like the sprinting equivalent of I Want Revenge, who exploded to win the Gotham in his first dirt start for Jeff Mullins - also the trainer of Gato Go Win.

Not for Silver was outgamed by a 16-1 shot in the one-mile Private Terms two weeks ago. He is back rather quickly, but anything close to his win in the Fred Capossela over the inner track stacks up very well.

Excelsior - The foremost question with Barrier Reef is that he's never won on any other surface except the inner dirt, where he's 5 for 6. The secondary point is that the inner track was kinder than it's ever been to off-the-pace horses this winter, and Barrier Reef caught a couple of closer-favoring days winning the Evening Attire and the Stymie.

Meanwhile, True Resurgence did a lot of the dirty work through a prolonged duel in the Stymie. That was his first start in nearly two months, and he has been most effective when allowed to settle off the early leaders.

Kurbat was fourth behind Real Merchant in the 2007 running of the Premio Valle Nevado in Chile, which is looking like a key race. Real Merchant was second at 40-1 in the Stymie second time out in the United States, and Kurbat set a track record at Laurel in his U.S. debut.

Wood Memorial - I Want Revenge dominated the Gotham and seems capable of rating in the event that Atomic Rain is employed as a rabbit for entrymate West Side Bernie. But it's fair to wonder if there are really 8 1/2 lengths separating him from Gotham runner-up Imperial Council.

The track and distance are new factors for both, as are seven additional pounds, and Imperial Council is a strong candidate to improve second time going long after getting a real education in the Gotham. Notably, his comeback win was accomplished from off the pace, over a Gulfstream strip that was rated a -195 by Racing Flow on Feb. 14, which pushed it into the realm of what the Plod Boys term "an important speed bias."

Carter - Fabulous Strike may be the most vulnerable favorite in the four big races, because of a basic handicapping factor: distance. He is among the best sprinters in the world at six furlongs, but besides the recent General George - where he was head to head but outfinished by True Quality - his only other start at seven-eighths was the 2006 Woody Stephens, in which he set the pace to midstretch and faded to fourth late.

With the speedy Biker Boy and Driven by Success also in the field, the Carter has the potential for a pace meltdown that could set the table for either Kodiak Kowboy or Tale of Ekati.

Kodiak Kowboy got the kinks out at Fair Grounds rallying for second in his '09 bow behind Sok Sok, who won all three of his Fair Grounds starts by open lengths, including putting up a 109 Beyer Speed Figure in the Sugar Bowl.

Tale of Ekati never fired at 11-10 in the Richter Scale, but that was on the same speed-favoring card (Feb. 14) that Imperial Council ran over. The 47-1 How's Your Halo ran down Ikigai in the Richter Scale after chasing that pacesetter from the get-go.