07/25/2006 11:00PM

Saratoga stakes plays for Wednesday, July 26

Email

There are stakes-quality horses all over the opening-day card at Saratoga in some wide-open allowance races, but the two actual stakes races appear to be among the most straightforward events on the program. My unexciting strategy in multirace wagers involving the two stakes is going to be to focus on the favorites.

The $70,000 Rogues Walk Stakes (Race 8) at seven furlongs for older statebred filly sprinters drew a field of nine and I had no difficulty drawing big red X's through four of them. Great Lady K is 3 for 24 and simply too slow; Paige Nicole's only competitive performance came on a very wet track; Pelham Bay has been sidelined since May and is working like she probably needs a race, and Fuego Grande is in way over her head.

Of the five remaining contenders, the likely pace scenario appears to favor Sweet Sweet and Judy Soda, the likely one-two choices in the betting. In a field with little early speed, Sweet Sweet figures to go right to the front. Judy Soda, a pace-presser in longer races, should be second on the outside and they may well run 1-2 around the track in that order.

Carlow and Royal Fudge have both run competitive figures on their best days and both sprung upsets at Saratoga last year, but both do their best running behind the kind of strong, contested pace that is unlikely to develop here. Samsincharge is slightly intriguing, turning back in distance and switching from turf to dirt, but it's unclear she's good enough to compete here on dirt. Her lone good number came in a loose-on-the-lead route over the Aqueduct inner track. Still, at 12-1 or better she might make some sense in exactas underneath the favorites.

The featured Schuylerville for 2-year-old fillies is Desire to Excel's race to lose. The only possible betting appeal here is her price. If she were trained by Todd Pletcher, she might be 4-5 in this spot off a dominant Astoria victory that earned a towering 91 Beyer. Since she's trained by Kelly Breen, and was 24-1 when she upset the Astoria, she's likely to be closer to 2-1, which would not be a bad price. In the Astoria, she dueled with a very quick Churchill shipper, left her for dead, and simply ran away from the field.

Most of the others are second-time starters coming off slower maiden victories. The most appealing of them is Angel Island, a winner at 6-5 in her debut at Keeneland April 20. I might try her and Churchill debut winner Frances G in exactas underneath the favorite, playing against the slower fillies from big-name outfits who may attract unwarranted money off their connections alone.

The late pick four on races 7-10 looks pretty chalky, ending with the two stakes and a maiden turf mile finale where one of four closely-matched favorites will probably win. A better chance for a longshot looms in the first leg, the 7th, where I'm The Tiger will be heavily favored but has to overcome both a nine-month layoff and likely intense early pressure from Spooky Mulder and Spanish Chestnut. I might let those three beat me and instead use pricey stalkers and closers such as Awesome Twist, With Distinction and Vicarage. A $180 play might look like this:

$4 pick four: 137/38/8/2679= $96

$1 pick four: 137/569/8/2679 = $36

$1 pick four: 137/38/45/2679 = $48

I'll be back tomorrow to see if there's any way to play a five-horse Sanford Stakes that features a legitimate 3-5 shot and three maidens.