06/16/2005 12:00AM

Rich in Spirit could start pick 4 off right

Skip Smith
The filly Rich in Spirit could be primed for a peak effort in her third start off a layoff.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - More than horses can chase big money on Stephen Foster Day at Churchill Downs on Saturday. So can bettors - with a $250,000 guaranteed all-stakes pick four and an all-stakes pick six being offered.

Although few of the stakes are exceptionally large, the competitive nature of many of the events should result in the opportunity for a rewarding ticket. That is particularly true of the last four races, which comprise the pick four.

The first leg of the all-stakes pick four, the eighth race, is the Grade 3 Regret for 3-year-old fillies going 1 1/8 miles on turf. Eleven horses have been entered, making it the deepest of the stakes at Churchill on Saturday.

My top choice, Rich in Spirit (No. 11), finished quickly to be second to Sweet Talker in the Edgewood Stakes on May 6. She strung together three wins in a row last year at age 2, and appears poised for a breakthrough race in the Regret, which marks her third start following a winter freshening.

To win she will have to catch Sweet Talker (8), who is unbeaten in three starts over the Churchill course. Cape Hope (10), 4 for 5 on grass, also figures prominently. They will also be on my tickets - though I'm hopeful Rich in Spirit will triumph as the likely best price of the trio.

More so than Sweet Talker and Cape Hope, Rich in Spirit figures to move up at 1 1/8 miles. She also benefits from the services of jockey Gary Stevens - who has been winning at about a 25 percent clip on grass at Churchill Downs.

I will play two fillies in the 1 1/8-mile Fleur de Lis Handicap on dirt - Island Sand (4) and Shadow Cast (2) - reasoning that they are the classiest runners. Island Sand is the only Grade 1 winner in the field, and Shadow Cast is a two-time Grade 2 winner and Grade 1-placed.

Both fillies are legitimate 1 1/8-mile runners. Shadow Cast is a winner at the distance, and Island Sand ran second in last year's Kentucky Oaks.

I'm giving a narrow edge to Island Sand, who appears to have slowly recaptured her form after struggling late last season following a pair of surgeries to correct breathing problems.

Her last couple of races were better than they appear on paper. Wide trips cost her ground in both the Apple Blossom and Louisville Breeders' Cup.

The featured Stephen Foster, the third leg of the pick four, is a challenging race to handicap from the perspective that it figures to unfold with a blistering pace. This seemingly could work against the two Bobby Frankel-trained runners, Saint Liam (3) and Badge of Silver (4), both of whom race near the front.

Yet each has shown the rare ability to sustain a fast pace over a 1 1/8-mile distance. Badge of Silver won the New Orleans Handicap at 1 1/8 miles over Limehouse after going a half-mile in 45.55 seconds. Saint Liam dueled head and head with 2004 Horse of the Year Ghostzapper through similarly taxing fractions last fall in the Woodward before losing by a neck.

I will use those two horses, and also the late-running Perfect Drift (7), who is my second selection behind Saint Liam. He regularly earns Beyer Speed Figures in the 110-114 range when the leaders set an opening half-mile in 47 seconds or less.

After going three deep in the Stephen Foster, I will cut back to two runners in the last leg of the pick four, using course specialists Senor Swinger (1) and G P Fleet (8). They are a combined 8 for 14 on the Churchill turf course, and each is a graded stakes winner over the local lawn.

Each possesses a powerful turn of foot - a key in a race that figures to develop with little pace. They have shown the ability to accelerate to victory behind slow early fractions - something that seems assured in the 1 1/16-mile Opening Verse. I slightly favor Senor Swinger, who is favorably drawn in post 1.

Provided there are no scratches, a pick four play using the horses outlined above would look like this: $1 pick four - 11,8,10 with 4,2 with 3,7,4 with 1,8. Cost: $36.