08/02/2006 11:00PM

Saratoga stakes plays for Thursday, August 3


As the old saying goes, everyone talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it. At Saratoga, however, a handicapper - especially one who agreed to post a daily play involving the stakes race several hours in advance -- MUST do something about it: Be prepared to turn on a dime, or a hail storm.

I blame myself for a lack of such preparation this past Saturday, when the first and last legs of the pick six were switched from grass to dirt just half an hour before the close of pick-six betting. I had not made alternate dirt selections in those races, was at the track without the proper handicapping tools, and did a hurried recasting of my tickets that somehow managed to omit a logical co-favorite in the first leg, a horse I hated on grass but who was probably the obvious lone speed in the dirt version of the race. Normally I would have at least noted some dirt thoughts for own later reference, but since there was no trouble in the weather forecast, I didn't. I was unprepared and it cost me.

Today's Saratoga forecast calls for "severe" and "torrential" thunderstorms and large hail...at some point. Maybe mid-afternoon, maybe late afternoon, maybe not until early evening. Given the forecasters' past performances, perhaps that means we should count on clear skies and soothing mountain breezes all day and night. But we had also better be prepared for an announcement just around the time that the pick six (with carryover from Monday) is starting, or maybe just around the time the late pick four is starting, that today's eighth and ninth races are being moved from the turf to the main track. Or one is and one isn't or neither or both.

So today's "play" is not so much a specific wager as a strategy to be prepared for possible surface switches in the day's final two races with two entirely different sets of selections. Think of it this way: If there's a late change, most handicappers around the country will be scrambling the way I was on Jim Dandy Day, trying to re-handicap the races without enough time. Meanwhile, we can be coolly and confidently altering our pick six, late pick four, late pick three and late double plays with calm and ruthless efficiency.

Race 8: On either surface I will go three deep, but with different horses. On turf: My Interpretation (8), who is reliable and has faced better; Peg's Prayer (7), completely unreliable but very talented when she's in the mood; and Artistic Express (10), a runaway winner of her grass debut but no cinch to stretch out. On dirt: Artistic Express remains my third choice, behind two I wouldn't use on grass- No Reason(3), who has won two stakes at this level against this bunch, and Gone Goodbye(4), who is lightly raced and still has room to improve.

Race 9: A difficult statebred filly sprint on either surface but again I will emphasize different horses depending on the surface. On grass it's Tomorrow's Nano(3), who ran very well in her debut, and One Traveller, who shortens up to an ideal distance second off the layoff; on dirt, I'd include those two if they stay in but add in equal strength Daybeforeher B'day(4) and Precise Lady (2b).

So whatever multirace plays I make on the back end of the Thursday card, they will end 7-8-10/3-9 if by turf and 3-4-10/2-3-4-9 on the dirt.