04/19/2006 11:00PM

Resisting urge to play against Smuggler


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Judging from a weather forecast that called for showers at press time, Saturday's Aqueduct card featuring the Bed o' Roses and Fort Marcy handicaps was shaping up to be very much like last year's stakes doubleheader, when the main track and turf course were both labeled good.

The potential for another damp and gloomy April afternoon at the Big A isn't the only similarity. Last year's Bed o' Roses was won in an upset by Pleasant Home, a Phipps Stable homebred, then 4, making her seventh lifetime start for

trainer Shug McGaughey. A year later, those storied connections will use the same race as a starting point for Smuggler, who makes the eighth start of her career, and her first at 4.

Of course, that is where the similarities end. Pleasant Home went on to shock the racing world by winning the Breeders' Cup Distaff, but she was a diamond in the rough heading into the Bed o' Roses, which was her stakes debut following a win against second-level allowance fillies at Gulfstream Park four weeks earlier. Her Beyer Speed Figures were light, but she improved enough to win the Distaff, paying $19.60 after running everyone down in the stretch.

As a dual Grade 1 winner, Smuggler is more accomplished now than Pleasant Home was then. But even though Smuggler's wins in the Mother Goose and Coaching Club were unremarkable against the clock, and marked the end of a campaign cut short by illness, they were still enough to earn her an Eclipse Award in a weak division.

It's tempting to try to beat reputation horses such as Smuggler when they haven't been out in nine months, especially when they are giving weight, but this is a very tough call, because she has been so consistent when she does run. Smuggler could easily be undefeated; her first career loss came when she was runner-up on one of those dead tracks at Calder after racing four wide, and her second-place finish in the Acorn featured a middle move into a hot pace and resulted in her highest Beyer.

If it rains enough for a sealed track, it could well be a plus for Smuggler. She is out of Inside Information, whose freakish ability in the mud included a win in the 1995 Breeders' Cup Distaff, for which she received a 119 Beyer.

"Seven furlongs is probably not her best distance, but it should get her ready to run longer," said McGaughey.

Being drawn on the outside is a potential edge for Smuggler, who should be able to settle into a clear stalking trip as Trickle of Gold and Slew Motion go for the early lead.

How much energy it takes for Trickle of Gold to get rid of Slew Motion is the other big key to the race, because Trickle of Gold is virtually unbeatable when she can get clear through the first quarter-mile, but not nearly as effective otherwise.

Ecclesiastic back in weak Fort Marcy

Last year's Fort Marcy marked the season debut of Better Talk Now, who had won the 2004 Breeders' Cup Turf. There is no one of that stature in this running, the only similarity being that Ecclesiastic was third a year ago and is back for another try.

Five weeks after the 2005 Fort Marcy, Ecclesiastic won the Grade 3 Jaipur at seven furlongs and next chased a 1:08 six-furlong split in the one-mile Poker. He is probably best at distances up to one mile, but if this race stays on the grass - which seemed like a 50-50 proposition 48 hours out - he could very well be the pacesetter by default.

Other possibilities in a lackluster renewal include the New York-bred horse-for-course Pa Pa Da; Sabre d'Argent, a Group 3 winner in England three years ago; and Big Booster, who was in against much tougher turf horses in the recent Canadian Turf Handicap at Gulfstream.

Postmortems from last week's pick 4

I tried to make a wise-guy case for the Nick Zito-trained Little Cliff in the Blue Grass, but should've done the same thing with Zito's Sun King, the 7-1

winner of the Commonwealth Breeders' Cup. Trying to figure out the on-again, off-again Sun King is like trying to figure out the Da Vinci code, but apparently he is now a deep-closing sprinter.

The pick four's $1 payoff of $1,531 was nearly three times the win parlay, which goes to show you needn't avoid prohibitive favorites such as 1-2 shot Lawyer Ron, as long as the other legs are fairly competitive.