03/18/2004 1:00AM

At short price, bet against Birdstone

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NEW YORK - This was originally an important weekend of 3-year-old racing, but after some of the inscrutable results of last week, it is an even more significant weekend now.

People will be seeking some clarity in the 3-year-old picture after the Lane's End, the Gotham, and the Rebel Stakes are run on Saturday.

The $500,000 Lane's End tops a stakes-filled card at Turfway Park that also includes the $150,000 Bourbonette Breeders' Cup for 3-year-old fillies, and the $100,000 Rushaway, which is for 3-year-olds who, for one reason or another, may not quite have been up to a start in the Lane's End. Meanwhile, the Gotham, which like the Rebel is worth $200,000, is supported by the $100,000 Cicada Stakes for 3-year-old fillies.

There are also two important turf stakes on Saturday, and that they are both on the same day can make just about anyone wonder what in the world the schedule makers were thinking. The main attraction at Gulfstream Park is the Pan American Handicap, while the headliner at Santa Anita is the San Luis Rey Handicap. Both are Grade 2 events, both are worth $200,000, and both are at 1 1/2 miles. Way to go.

Here are my three spotlight stakes:

Lane's End

Birdstone will be the heavy favorite, and the once-beaten winner of the Champagne probably deserves to be. I'm still picking against him. Birdstone received only a modest Beyer Speed Figure of 93 winning his first start this year, and while almost everyone expects him to improve second time back, it is important to note that barnmate Eurosilver showed no improvement from his first to second start this year, at least in terms of Beyers. These aren't the kind of issues a 3-5 shot should be facing.

I'm going with Stolen Time, who showed a lot of ability last year when he beat Second of June at Calder. Second of June later romped in the Holy Bull, and was narrowly beaten in that crazy-fast Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream. Stolen Time finished sixth last time out in the Louisiana Derby, but he had a license to need that race since it was his first start in four months. And, I love the fact that Stolen Time is running back in 13 days, which is an unusual, but in this instance positive, move by trainer Bill Mott.

Cicada

The controlling speed who will be no better than the third choice in the betting is always a strong play, and that is just what Bohemian Lady is in this spot.

Bohemian Lady ran well last time out when second in the Dearly Precious, even if it was her first defeat. Bohemian Lady missed her break and then rushed up, only to be caught in a speed duel that made her ripe to be picked off late, which she was. None of her opponents Saturday has shown the kind of early foot that Bohemian Lady demonstrated last time, and that means she should be comfortably in front early.

Despite that advantage, Bohemian Lady should be a better price than Among My Souvenirs, who beat her most recently with the help of the perfect setup, and Whoopi Cat. Whoopi Cat seems vulnerable at a low price even though she was in with some of the best members of her division in her last two at Santa Anita. Whoopi Cat really wasn't competitive out West, and her two wins last year may have been aided by wet tracks.

Rebel

I hope the Smarty Jones fan club, which made this undefeated colt odds-on in his last three starts, shows up Saturday. I hope everyone who felt Mr. Jester was unlucky to lose the Risen Star Stakes at a short price in his last start bets him back. I hope for these things because I think Purge is going to win this race. And, as an undefeated Todd Pletcher-John Velazquez production, Purge will need some help to be a decent price here.

Purge did impress in his recent return at Gulfstream, even if he beat only three opponents. He pulled hard to join a speed duel three wide around the far turn, yet still drew away in the stretch to score in strong time. That eagerness Purge displayed can stand him in good stead Saturday, because with Smarty Jones now showing an inclination to rate off the lead, there are no committed front-runners in this race. Purge should capitalize, and lead this field a merry chase.

Saturday

Turfway Park: Lane's End Spiral Stakes
3-year-olds, 1 1/8 miles

Approximate post: Eastern-4:15 p.m., Central-3:15 p.m., Mountain-2:15 p.m., Pacific-1:15 p.m.

Florence, Ky., forecast: Chance of showers, 58 degrees

PPHORSELAST 3 BEYERSODDS
1Birdstone93 94 789-5
2That's an Outrage88 91 635-1
3Hippocrates82 69 6830-1
4Stolen Time86 93 886-1
5Tap Dancing Mauk73 76 8430-1
6Hasslefree73 73 8930-1
7Silver Minister83 73 847-2
8New Element86 71 6920-1
9Tricky Taboo82 65 7130-1
10Little Matth Man78 82 7615-1
11Sinister G95 18 915-1

Most recent Beyer listed first; odds by Elliot Safdie

Aqueduct: Cicada Stakes
Fillies, 3-year-olds, 7 furlongs

Approximate post: Eastern-4:55 p.m., Central-3:55 p.m., Mountain-2:55 p.m., Pacific-1:55 p.m.

Ozone Park, N. Y., forecast: Partly cloudy, 45 degrees

PPHORSELAST 3 BEYERSODDS
1Baldomera71 77 686-1
2She's a Mugs72 81 4212-1
3Bohemian Lady79 84 845-2
4Whoopi Cat85 70 839-5
5Freeroll57 40 8120-1
6Whirlwind Charlott60 69 7920-1
7Among My Souvenirs83 78 732-1

Odds by Dan Ilman

Oaklawn Park: Rebel Stakes
3-year-olds, 1 1/16 miles

Approximate post: Eastern-6:32 p.m., Central-5:32 p.m., Mountain-4:32 p.m., Pacific-3:32 p.m.

Hot Springs, Ar., forecast: Chance of thunderstorms, 75 degrees

PPHORSELAST 3 BEYERSODDS
1Proper Prado76 90 9010-1
2Mr. Jester95 91 885-2
3Archie B79 63 7820-1
4Purge99 89 --7-2
5Maisie's Son75 75 8630-1
6Gran Prospect72 93 848-1
7Smarty Jones95 97 1059-5
8Pro Prado93 88 8310-1
9Cryptograph92 94 568-1

Odds by Kristin Sadler