06/09/2004 11:00PM

Single Southern Image and spread elsewhere


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - When presented with quality vs. quantity, bettors generally prefer races with quantity. Of course, what the betting public really likes is both - which they'll get Saturday on Stephen Foster Day at Churchill Downs.

There are numerous wagering opportunities. Twelve races are on tap, led by six stakes worth $1.85 million. Specifically, an all-stakes pick four - covering the Northern Dancer, Regret, Fleur de Lis, and Stephen Foster - has the potential for a sizable return.

The stakes, most notably the Northern Dancer and Regret, are dynamite betting races. Here's a look at the pick four, which has a guaranteed $250,000 pool:

Race 6, Northern Dancer: Of the six stakes on the card, this one is the most evenly matched from top to bottom. Of the 12 entrants, at least half appear to have a realistic chance of victory.

My choice is Two Down Automatic. He has hit the board in eight consecutive races, despite a challenging schedule that placed him in five stakes.

Although upset by Courageous Act in an allowance prep for the Northern Dancer, he still has many things to offer. Twice he has earned triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures, and beyond the numbers, he has raced competitively against such standout 3-year-olds as Fire Slam and Smarty Jones.

Indian War Dance and Suave are my second and third choices, and will also be on my pick four tickets. Indian War Dance won the Kelly Kip Stakes at Belmont on May 14 and is a contender at a price, while Suave drops out of the Grade 2 Lexington, a race in which he finished 12th. His best race came April 3 when he ran third behind Pollard's Vision in the Grade 2 Illinois Derby.

Race 7, Regret: Baxter Hall, listed at 10-1 odds on the track morning line, is a live longshot. She comes off a close third-place finish against older two-other-than allowance fillies, a deceptively good race that should set her up for the leap back into stakes company.

A half-sister to graded-stakes winner Aud, Baxter Hall has the pedigree and style to improve as the year goes on, hopefully sooner rather than later. The price should be right - with the public focusing on fillies ridden by Pat Day and Jerry Bailey, the odds on the Brian Peck-ridden Baxter Hall may even climb above 10-1.

Peck and trainer Tony Reinstedler have favorable history together - 16 percent winners and a $2.50 return on investment since 2002.

Gingham and Lace and Jinny's Gold, two fillies with stellar turf records, will also be included on my pick fours. Gingham and Lace was a brave runner-up in the Edgewood on Oaks Day, and Jinny's Gold is 2 for 2 in allowances on turf.

Race 8, Fleur de Lis: Yell, a filly who seems to regularly run into trouble, may finally see her luck change. She is well drawn in post 2 in a race filled primarily with speed horses.

Racing last month in the Louisville Breeders' Cup Handicap, she ran well in defeat, finishing second to Lead Story in the slop. Yell was reserved behind horses on the inside, and Lead Story got the jump on her with a wide rally. By the time Yell shook clear to the outside, it was too late to catch Lead Story. To Yell's credit, she made up nearly two lengths on the strong-finishing Lead Story in the final eighth of the race.

Racing 1 1/8 miles over this track last spring, Yell ran a troubled third in the Kentucky Oaks - the best race of her life.

Adoration, the 2003 Breeders' Cup Distaff winner, will also be on my tickets. She is a dual Grade 1 winner, leads the field with $1.6 million in earnings, and has run triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures four times.

Race 9, Stephen Foster: Competition may run deep in the other races, but not in the Stephen Foster. Southern Image is a star. When he won the Pimlico Special last month over Midway Road, he seemed to toy with him through the stretch - yet still ran a 118 Beyer.

This horse has a very distinct style of running. Southern Image tugs at jockey Victor Espinoza when reserved off horses, but upon making the lead, Espinoza has to ride him aggressively to prevent him from laying up.

I would anticipate Peace Rules going to the lead, perhaps even by himself. That helps him, but it also benefits Southern Image by giving him a target. That should be all he needs to hit the bull's eye.

Ticket cost: Using three horses in each of the first two stakes, two in the Fleur de Lis, and one in the Stephen Foster results in 18 combinations. Cost for a $2 ticket is $36.