08/03/2006 11:00PM

Saratoga stakes play for Friday, August 4


I'm a big fan of the pick four and usually play it aggressively in an attempt to make a score, playing multiple tickets to give myself a chance at picking up oddball horses and pressing some combinations in order to have more than a buck of it if things work out well. Today, however, I'm playing the late pick four, which encompasses two stakes for sprinting fillies, far more casually and with a different goal: for a little action on a rain-ravaged card that otherwise leaves me cold and to force myself to watch the latter races on the card with some rooting interest.

I found the two stakes races to be nearly impossible handicapping propositions, but the two off-the-grass races surrounding them became more manageable when they were taken off the turf. So the strategy is to narrow in the first and last legs, spread in the two stakes, play a couple of uncomplicated partwheels, and hope for the best on what will probably be my lowest-handle day of the meeting.

In the seventh race, where $40k 3-year-old claiming fillies will now be going a mile and an eighth on the main track, Main-Track-Only entrant Magic Momentum now towers over a field of six. On the bigger ticket, with a wider spread, I'll single her, and back up with Act as If and Early Hatch on one small backup ticket.

The eighth race is the $70k Capote Belle at six furlongs, a sort of consolation race for 3-year-old fillies not considered good enough or ready enough to run in Saturday's Test, which drew a field of 15. After the late scratch of My Lucky Free, there's a field of seven left, and I'll use four of them: Khalila, the best of the speed, and the off-the-pace types Baby Bird, India and Cherokee Jewel.

The ninth is the G2 Honorable Miss for older fillies, the prep for the G1 Ballerina, and I have yet to draw a confident X through any of the six fillies in the field. I don't know what to do with Malibu Mint, who some might consider a cinch off her monstrous 115 Beyer winning the Princess Rooney last time out but whose 17 other career starts bear little relation to that effort. I wish I could be more confident in Reunited, who flashed extraordinary potential last summer and fall but has since had some problems and just one race in the last nine months. Ever Elusive is the dependable, logical closer, and beat Malibu Mint two back, but is slower than most of these when they fire their very best shots. So I'm going "all" on the big ticket, and just Malibu Mint, Reunited and Ever Elusive on the smaller one.

The finale for statebred maidens, now at a mile and an eighth on the dirt, has a lot of familiar local runners with spotty and mediocre dirt form so I'll lean toward the two strangers - In the Service, who has been facing open company at Lone Star and Oaklawn before being claimed and turned over to Scott Lake, and Sugar Slam, a dirt-bred statebred who couldn't get out of his own way on the grass in Europe. On the spread ticket, I'll also use the locals Bachelornumberone, Roscommon Express and Bronxdale.

So the play goes like this for each $168 you feel like investing:

$1 pick four: 11/3,5,6,7/1,2,3,4,5,6/5,8,10,13,14= $120

$1 pick four: 1,4/3,5,6,7/2,3,4/8,14 = $48