04/17/2008 12:00AM

Racecar Rhapsody not just a surface play


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - In contrast to last week's Bluegrass Stakes at Keeneland, in which 7 of the 12 competitors were racing on a synthetic for the first time, Saturday's Lexington Stakes requires less guesswork as to who will take to the surface. Seven of the 11 starters have experience racing over synthetic tracks, and six of those have run over Polytrack, the type of synthetic surface at Keeneland.

Although several of the non-synthetic entrants - most notably Atoned - come into the race with good credentials, my focus is on those with synthetic experience. Specifically, I'm throwing my support behind Racecar Rhapsody, and to lesser degrees behind Salute the Sarge and Behindatthebar, whom I plan to use with Racecar Rhapsody in the exotics.

If Racecar Rhapsody sticks anywhere close to his 9-2 morning-line price, he looms a good wager for several reasons. For starters, he is an established synthetic performer, recording a win, a second, and a fourth in three starts on the surface.

In finishing second in his debut behind St. Joe at Keeneland in early October of last year, he blew the start, losing at least five lengths, and rallied from 17 lengths off the pace to fall 2o1/2 lengths behind the winner. Then in proving that race was no fluke, he returned later in the month to close from eight lengths off the pace and win a maiden race at Keeneland by two lengths, running 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:15.70.

He topped a good group in that maiden race. Runner-up Mad Flatter won his next two starts before running third in the Grade 3 Lecomte, and third-place Talk of a Cat won his subsequent maiden start at Hollywood Park by 5 1/2 lengths.

Admittedly, Racecar Rhapsody's last race - a fourth-place finish in the March 22 Lane's End - was not on par with his first two starts, even taking into account the tougher opposition he was facing, such as the Kentucky Derby-bound winner Adriano. Able to save ground throughout, Racecar Rhapsody was in position to challenge in the stretch but flattened out late in his first start since running fourth in the Delta Jackpot Dec.o7.

Expect a much-improved effort this time. He has the benefit of a comeback race, plus two subsequent five-furlong drills, which should have him cranked for a peak performance in his second start off a layoff.

My second selection, Salute the Sarge, is the most accomplished entrant, having won three stakes, all on synthetic surfaces, including a pair of graded contests. Besides winning over the Cushion Track surfaces at Santa Anita and Hollywood Park, he also won over Del Mar's Polytrack.

He is an honest sort who should give a good account, but I expect he will be bet down from his 4-1-morning-line price, and his route performances to date have not been as flashy as his sprint efforts. Even though he was second in the 1 1/16-mile Norfolk last year, that field's quality was suspect for a Grade 1 race.

Behindatthebar also deserves consideration, particularly if he starts at or above his 12-1 morning-line price. He is a proven router and synthetic performer, and although he is not as battle-tested as Racecar Rhapsody and Salute the Sarge, he gives the impression of a horse with stakes quality.

Fort Harrod: Big A invader is the pick

Earlier Saturday at Keeneland, the $100,000 Fort Harrod Stakes looms an intriguing handicapping contest - given that it is a 1 5/8-mile race over Polytrack, not exactly the kind of conditions horseplayers see with much frequency.

My play is Aqueduct invader Successful Affair, who makes his third start of his form cycle and has established himself as an effective stayer. He is also by Successful Appeal, whose offspring have shown a liking for synthetic surfaces, with Grade 2 La Canada winner Dawn After Dawn being the most notable example.

I expect he will drift up from his 3-1 morning-line price, with the public focusing more on Bobby Frankel-trained Rathor, a graded stakes dropper who won over the Polytrack at Keeneland last spring.

Giant's Causeway: Fanlight Fanny at a price

The eighth race at Keeneland, the Giant's Causeway, offers the opportunity to back an improving turf sprinter at a price: Fanlight Fanny at 6-1. A Lear Fan filly, she has exhibited dramatic improvement this year, winning a five-furlong turf dash at Tampa Bay Downs over stakes winner Queen Amira, and following that race with a close third in an allowance over Polytrack at Keeneland April 4.

She ran well in the latter race, much better than she did in finishing fifth in her prior start over Keeneland's Polytrack last year, and that hints of a forward move with the return to turf, her surface of preference. She will have to outrun some talented stakes fillies - such as Jazzy and Danceroftherealm - but if she is a fat price, she is a gamble worth taking.