05/05/2004 11:00PM

Some favorites to bet against


NEW YORK - Hollywood Park steps up big time Saturday to fill the void on the weekend between the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes with a stakes tripleheader worth a total of $650,000.

The richest race on Hollywood's program is the $350,000 Jim Murray Memorial Handicap for long-winded grass horses at 1 1/2 miles. Speed will be more in evidence in the other two stakes on the card, the Mervyn LeRoy Handicap at 1 1/16 miles, and the Los Angeles Times Handicap at six furlongs. Both are on the dirt, and each is worth $150,000.

Belmont Park also looks to fill the vacuum between the Derby and Preakness with a stakes doubleheader Saturday. The $200,000 Nassau County Breeders' Cup Stakes is the nominal feature, but the $100,000 Bold Ruler Handicap attracted one of the best sprinters in the country in Shake You Down.

Other noteworthy races Saturday include the $125,000 Yerba Buena Breeders' Cup Handicap for fillies and mares on the turf at Bay Meadows, and the $100,000 Matt Winn Stakes at Churchill Downs.

Here are my three spotlight stakes:

Los Angeles Times Handicap

The beauty of this race is both Hombre Rapido and Marino Marini are ripe to be beaten at low odds. Hombre Rapido hasn't raced since he won this race a year ago, and even though layoff lines come with Hombre Rapido's territory, that's too long a break for my liking. As for Marino Marini, his third last time out in the Commonwealth Breeders' Cup at Keeneland looks like a decent effort on the surface. But, the first two finishers in that race, Lion Tamer and Private Horde, both came back with dull efforts in favorable spots, giving rise to the notion that the Commonwealth may be a negative key race.

I'm going with Cayoke. Cayoke's only attempt on dirt in this country was a disaster. But the fact that he was vanned off and wasn't seen again for seven months says something went very wrong, and it's probably best to ignore that line. Cayoke's recent Beyer Speed Figures in sharp turf sprint stakes performances are certainly competitive. And his trainer, Jeff Mullins, showed with Santa Anita Derby winner Castledale, and with his trainer stats, that when he thinks a turf horse can handle dirt, he is frequently correct.

Mervyn LeRoy Handicap

As is the case with the L.A. Times Handicap, there is a horse in this one who I think is worth taking a shot against. This time it's Olmodavor, who lacks even positional speed, and is coming off a two-month layoff. Moreover, Olmodavor is listed as getting blinkers back on despite the fact he recorded his two career stakes wins after blinkers were removed. Olmodavor may win, but he will do so without me.

Total Impact is the pick to win this race for a second straight year. Total Impact has not won in five starts since, but he turned in a strong effort most recently when clearly second best in the San Bernardino to Dynever, who ran so big that day that there seems little doubt he is among the top three or four handicap horses in the nation. Not only is Total Impact in form, his positional speed is an asset as well.

Carterista Handicap

No one owned the Calder turf course last fall like Magic Mecke, winning three straight to improve his record over the course to 5 wins and 3 seconds from 10 starts. And, Magic Mecke is the selection to make the course his own again in this spot.

Magic Mecke has been pointing to Calder since making two starts during prime time of the Gulfstream meeting. He was unsuited to the distance in one of those starts, the 1 3/8-mile Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup Handicap. But a strong case could be made that he should have won the Sunshine Millions Turf. Magic Mecke finished fastest of all when beaten a little more than a length finishing fourth, and that after he steadied along the inside on the far turn and was forced to angle out after being blocked behind a wall of horses in midstretch.