08/29/2002 11:00PM

In search of longshots

Email

LEXINGTON, Ky. - The first round of betting on the Breeders' Cup futures on the Classic, Distaff, and Sprint required bettors to predict the winners of those races slightly less than four months before Breeders' Cup Day, a daunting task. That should not have stopped any red-blooded handicapper from taking a few judicious swings for the fences, but it did make it reasonable for bettors to risk only a small portion of their discretionary funds.

Two months have passed, and this round of betting, which concludes at 7 p.m. Eastern on Monday, seems like a good time to get more involved in these futures pools. If you love any particular horse, you might as well play him now at what will probably be a better price than you are likely to see on race day (the exceptions are foreign-based horses who haven't yet shipped to the United States, and any horse who will need to be supplemented. There is significant risk that they may not make it into the starting gate).

Even if you don't have a strong opinion on any single horse, there is also betting value to be found by spreading your money around on a few contenders at large prices.

Here are some of the contenders, and the possible upsetters:

Classic

Street Cry, the probable favorite, has been very consistent with a 12-5-6-1 career record, and has won 3 of 4 starts this year. Left Bank, who beat him by 1 1/4 lengths in the Whitney, is unlikely to race again following colic surgery, and Lido Palace, who finished only a nose behind Street Cry in that race, may not compete in the Classic since he would have to be supplemented at a cost of more than $800,000. Nevertheless, this race still figures to be very competitive, and Street Cry is probably a slight underlay at his 6-1 morning line odds.

Medaglia d'Oro and Came Home have both bolstered their credentials since the first pool (they were offered at 25-1 and 60-1 respectively), but their merits are going to be reflected in their prices in this pool.

At morning-line prices of 20-1, Momentum and Macho Uno are both overlays. Momentum is being overlooked because he has lost a number of close finishes. He was only a length behind Milwaukee Brew while third in the Californian, only a nose behind Sky Jack in the Hollywood Gold Cup, and was beaten by just three-quarters of a length while second to Came Home in the Pacific Classic. That margin would have been smaller if he had not encountered traffic down the lane, and it is encouraging that he was able to stay close to the fast early pace, and was still able to finish up strongly.

Macho Uno finished only 1 1/2 lengths behind Street Cry in the Whitney, and appears to be on the upswing. If the pace in the Classic is strong, he may be the one to capitalize.

Distaff

At first glance there is absolutely nothing wrong with Azeri, the 4-1 morning line favorite. She has won 8 of 9 career starts, and was a contending second behind Summer Colony in her lone defeat. But you have to wonder how much longer she can maintain her strong form. Her Beyers have declined in each of her last three victories, so this looks like the right time to take a stand and try to beat her.

Imperial Gesture and Minister's Baby are both interesting longshots. Imperial Gesture won two races in Dubai convincingly, then was roughed up at the break and didn't fire in the Kentucky Oaks. She stumbled at the start, but still won her comeback convincingly with a solid come-home time in a seven-furlong race at Saratoga. I like her chances at 20-1.

Minister's Baby isn't getting any attention because her last two wins were in the Iowa Distaff at Prairie Meadows, and in the Gardenia Handicap at Ellis Park. She has won four of her last five, owns contending Beyers, and is trained by Ken McPeek. At 30-1, that sounds like a bargain to me.

Sprint

The Sprint figures to be wide-open, so it is no surprise to see that the field is listed as the 6-1 morning line favorite in this race. Orientate, winner of three straight, and defending champ Squirtle Squirt are the two individual runners expected to get the most betting support, with both listed at 8-1, but this race is much too contentious to make that price attractive.

Although he has not yet proven that he can handle graded stakes company, there is a lot to be said for giving There's Zealous the benefit of the doubt at 50-1. He is at the top of his game, owns a 7-4-2-0 career record at Arlington, and was especially impressive in his last win over the track on Aug. 17. Although he won his last two races on the lead in one-mile races, he should be able to get good position while rating just off the faster fractions he will see in the sprint. Continued progress could result in a huge payoff.