08/02/2001 11:00PM

The secret to getting 5-1 on Point Given


PHOENIX - The result of the Haskell may be a sure thing. That does not mean that it isn't a bettable race.

A few years ago I loved Cigar, but for a different reason than you may think. Cigar's reliability provided the opportunity to make money. We're not talking retirement money, but enough to make you feel good about your wallet.

What I was able to do with Cigar was to take a 2-5 shot and turn him into a 5-1 shot or better. The way to do it was one-way exactas. For nearly two years, all Cigar did was win. That left us to figure out who was going to run second. Adroit handicapping could take Cigar with the right horse and turn a $3 win payoff into a $15 exacta.

The same opportunity may well present itself Sunday in Monmouth's Grade 1 Haskell Invitational. There's little doubt that Point Given is the best 3-year-old in the country; only Europe's Galileo prevents one from saying he is the best in the world.

His works indicate that Point Given is ready. His only poor race the past year came at the most inopportune time - in the Derby. Whether because of a racetrack that was too hard, or because he stayed too close to a sizzling pace, Point Given failed to show his true colors. He remedied that in the Preakness and Belmont.

But concede Point Given the race, and you're left with a much more difficult puzzle. The sharp and classy Burning Roma and Hero's Tribute figure to attract the most money outside of the big horse. But it's an emerging horse who could help us hit paydirt Sunday.

Bill Mott could just as easily kept This Fleet Is Due at Saratoga, where he has been training, and run in Saturday's Grade 1 Jim Dandy. It wouldn't have been an easy spot against Congaree and A P Valentine, but they aren't yet Point Given. Nevertheless, Mott has decided to come to Monmouth, with a horse who has run well over the track and who appears on the way up.

This Fleet Is Due was brought to the races as a 2-year-old under trainer Stanley Hough, and after finishing second in his career debut at Belmont, he was purchased from Robert and Bea Roberts by Stonerside Stable for $300,000. Since being moved to Mott's barn, he has never finished out of the money.

He entered the Long Branch at Monmouth on a two-race winning streak, and lodged a strong showing against his toughest competition to date. Although he had been close to the pace in his previous starts, he dropped back and rated in last through the backstretch in the 1 1/16-mile Long Branch a few weeks ago. Under Robbie Davis, he rallied widest around the final turn, and put in a solid run for second, 1 1/4 lengths back of Burning Roma. It was an excellent effort that could set him up nicely for a big effort in the Haskell.

It's that potential upside that makes him attractive underneath Point Given. Let's face it - the whole world knows about Hero's Tribute and Burning Roma. Exactas with them underneath Point Given are going to get hammered. It doesn't pay to use Point Given over all three. You could play three $2 exactas, but the payoff may come back under $10 if Hero's Tribute runs second.

If you use the same $6 and take a stand with This Fleet Is Due and he runs second to Point Given, the exacta might pay $15 or so. Would you rather spend the "safe" $6 and get back maybe $8, or take a stand with that same $6 and maybe get back $45?

Even if you don't care for This Fleet Is Due, it makes sense to take a stand on someone. In order to make those exactas pay when Cigar was winning all those races you had to take a stand on one horse underneath.

So I, like most everyone else, believe Point Given will have little trouble disposing of the Haskell field. There's little money in that. But if my handicapping is right and I can get the correct second horse, I've gotten the most bang for my buck.

Hopefully This Fleet Is Due can turn Point Given in the Haskell from unbettable to profitable.