07/26/2006 11:00PM

Saratoga stakes plays for Thursday, July 27

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I suppose I should be giddy that there's already a juicy pick-six carryover heading into the second day of the meeting that's really a pick-five, since Scat Daddy figures to win the five-horse Sanford at odds of around 2-to-5. But I'm not. There's a huge obstacle in the middle of the sequence called the 6th race, a statebred maiden sprint that became a lottery when morning-line favorite Say Revain, a potential single, was a late scratch. The race now consists of eight runners who could be destined to be maidens for quite some time and three first-time starters you'll be betting into blindly, with no chance to check for tote action since the pick six closes an hour earlier.

It may be enough to stop me from playing the pick six today at all, or for more than a just-in-case token investment. It also precludes any early strategizing about the late pick four, which begins with the troublesome maiden race. So let's focus instead on a late pick-three play that primarily singles Scat Daddy in the Sanford, which is sandwiched between two interesting grass races.

The first is the 7th, a 1 1/16-mile race on the inner for 3-year-olds wearing $40,000 claiming tags. My angle here is that races at that level during the Belmont meeting were exceptionally weak and I'm playing against the horses emerging from those events, such as Mascot, Rocky Blue and Wood Winner. Instead, I'll use a trio of droppers and strangers: New Awakening, who was facing better at the $50k level at Churchill; Glory For Gold, who emerges from the statebred allowance ranks and an ambitious start in the Hill Prince; and Solewisher, who drew in from the alsos with the scratch of Dr. Eli.

Then, after Scat Daddy wins the Sanford, we'll be alive to four horses in the finale, two of them big, two of them small. The two big tickets will not be to Secret Agent, the heavy favorite and many a selector's best bet of the day, but to Dreamin of Victory and Buxton Hill. The smaller tickets will be to Secret Agent, just to get our money back, and to longshot Himmarshee.

Secret Agent comes off a two-month layoff after winning a race that might not be quite as good as it looks on paper. After mediocre efforts in his first two grass tries, Secret Agent zoomed from Beyer figures of 66 and 68 to a seemingly dominant 88 winning a May 28 maiden race at Belmont. I have no quarrel with the figure that was assigned to the race, and runner-up Rodeo Hand cam back to validate it with a strong subsequent effort. But Secret Agent and the figure benefited from a kamikaze pace set by Bagavond, who blazed six furlongs in 1:09.15 before collapsing as Secret Agent flew by late and stopped the timer in 1:41.06.

That final time looked very good in comparison to the day's only other race on the Widener course, a mile victory by the consistent filly claimer Moorebella, who went a mile in 1:35.56. But Moorebella waltzed her frist six furlongs in 1:12.42, nearly 20 lengths slower than the pace in Secret Agent's race.

It's possible Secret Agent improved 20 points overnight, and he doesn't have to run another 88 to beat this field anyway, but I'm hoping that the big figure makes him a severe underlay and pumps the prices on Dreamin of Victory, who is lightly raced and lost contact with the field in his grass debut, and Buxton Hill, who doesn't like to win but whose typical performance is simply better than most of these seem capable of turning in.

A $150 late pick-three investment, with $120 of it singling Scat Daddy and $30 of it backing up with Sanford second choice War Wolf, would look like this:

$12 pick-three: 3-7-10/4/3-11 $72
$8 pick-three: 3-7-10/4/6-12 $48
$3 pick-three: 3-7-10/3/3-11 $18
$2 pick-three: 3-7-10/3/6-12 $12