07/06/2006 12:00AM

Run Alex Run best shot to upset Circular Quay

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Michael Burns
Chace City is one of only four horses in the Bashford Manor with a win at a top track.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Nearly all the signals in Saturday's Bashford Manor Stakes at Churchill Downs point to a victory from Circular Quay. The blue-blooded juvenile colt won his only start by 6 1/4 lengths, finishing powerfully from off the pace, and he is trained by Todd Pletcher, the Eclipse Award-winning trainer for the past two years.

Circular Quay is also a son of Thunder Gulch, winner of the 1995 Kentucky Derby, and out of Circle of Life, a mare who won the Grade 1 Spinaway as a juvenile in 1999. Throw in the fact that he owns one of the top Beyer Speed Figures in the race and that he has Rafael Bejarano in the irons, and you have a recipe for a horse that figures to be 4-5 odds.

Unfortunately, there are few good alternatives for those looking to take a stand against the favorite. Only seven opponents are lined up to face him, and three are still maidens - Elite Squadron, Teuflesberg, and a D. Wayne Lukas-trained first-time starter named Pegasus Wind. Another entrant, Mister Cugat, recorded his only victory in a maiden race at River Downs that carried a $10,000 purse.

That leaves three - Chace City, Shermanesque, and Run Alex Run - as the only opponents facing Circular Quay that have won races at a top-level track.

The good news is that one of these three might actually have a chance to upset Circular Quay, and that is Run Alex Run. At a price that is likely to be several times higher than the odds on Circular Quay, he is my choice to win the race.

Although he lacks the high-profile connections of Circular Quay, he does share similarities with him. For starters, he's fast. He earned an 84 Beyer Speed Figure for his debut victory, the best in Saturday's field, and 1 point higher than the Beyer Circular Quay received for his maiden score.

Second, he accomplished his figure without an easy trip. He dueled between horses for the first three furlongs of the race, yet still had the strength left to spurt away from the field.

He defeated a solid bunch, too. Pletcher and trainer Steve Asmussen had horses in the race, and the third-place finisher, Actin Good, came back to win his next start in a maiden race at Monmouth.

He also managed to win at first asking for a barn that rarely has debut winners - an indication of raw talent.

His workouts confirm that talent. He has three sharp five-furlong breezes leading up to this race, including a bullet workout in 58.80 seconds June 26.

I also like the fact that he is a son of Officer, whose 2-year-olds have performed exceedingly well at this early stage of the year. Besides Run Alex Run, Officer has been represented by the first-out winners Frances G, Chief Officer, and Glenwood Ace in maiden special weight company at Churchill Downs, Belmont Park, and Colonial Downs, respectively.

His offspring have been precocious - just like Officer himself. Officer won his first five races, including the Grade 1 Champagne, before tailing off, beginning with a fifth-place finish to Johannesburg in the 2001 Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

Perhaps like his sire, Run Alex Run can win a stakes race right after scoring in a maiden race. At a better price than Circular Quay, he seems like a decent gamble in a race with few options.

Debutante: Chagall already a pro

Contention runs a little deeper in the Debutante earlier on the Saturday card at Churchill Downs. Only a couple of the entrants look like toss-outs in the seven-horse field of juvenile fillies.

My choice is Chagall, who was highly professional in victory June 16. She broke alertly from the outside, showed a high level of speed with limited encouragement, and turned away a bid from Seaside Affair in the stretch.

Richwoman, who won the Cinderella Stakes after winning first time out at Keeneland, is her main threat. Seaside Affair is also in the race, and Come Together and Beautiful Venue also appear to have outside chances.

Seaside Affair, who ran second to Chagall in her only race, had a tougher trip than Chagall, racing greenly and losing ground with a wide trip. She could prove dangerous with better racing luck.