08/30/2006 11:00PM

Spa Stakes play for Thursday


If you're a multirace bettor, a single confounding event in a pick-something sequence can be either an opportunity or a deterrent. If you think the race is more open that the public will, it can be a good spot to cast a wider net and include horses who will be effectively higher than their win mutuels in the multirace pools because the public is locked in on the top choices. It works in reverse too: if there's a race where you think most multirace players will be spreading but you can narrow it down, you can then spend the money they're using to spread here to do your own spreading in another race where others will be limited.

But then there's today's situation, the only time at the Saratoga meeting when a steeplechase race is run later than the first race of the day. The featured New York Turf Writers Cup is the richest and most important jump race of the meet and thus given a more prominent spot on the card. That means that if you want to play the pick six, the late pick four or the late pick three, you have to deal with a steeplechase. I can't, and I say that without any resentment. Steeplechasing provides a second life and career for a lot of racehorses, and if it helps that effort to showcase one race a year and deprive me of one day of multirace betting, so be it.

Why not, you might ask, just take the three favorites and hope for the best? It's just against my parimutuel religion to bet that way. I simply have no analytical or intuitive feel for what my chances for success or survival are in a jump race. Hirapour, the favorite and topweight and sentimental choice in the race, is a neat old guy worth rooting for but I have no idea if he's actually 35 or 50 or 80 percent to win the race. Should I use him in equal strength with Mixed Up and Top of The Bill, or twice as much or four times as much? If he's going to be 4-to-5, is that an overlay or an underlay? If I can't answer any of those questions, I shouldn't be playing the race. It would be like making a daily double with a race in which I had an opinion onto a soccer game in Peru. Why compromise your opinion with a flat-out guess?

Fortunately, there's an alternative that still qualifies as a "stakes play" today. There's a daily double on races 6 and 7, the first of which is the overnight $70k Dynasty Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. So I'll play that double instead of the 6-7-8-9 pick four that runs through the jump race.

In the Dynasty, there's a ton of one-way speed that should ensure an honest pace and set things up nicely for favored Meribel, who will win if she duplicates her July 30 allowance effort. I'll use her twice as much as my two backups: Amansara, who has been off since February but has a world of natural ability, and Somethingaboutbetty, who is usually a frontrunner but might benefit from a change of tactics stalking quicker frontrunners today.

The seventh is a statebred N1x allowance where I'll go three deep: Phoneulator, off a big win over the track, albeit against a dreadful field; Fairway Drive, who's moving from grass to dirt, and Raff N Tumble, who makes his second start off a layoff and a prep over the track.

So the non-jump play for each $12 goes:

Race 6, $2 double partwheel: 5/4,7,8= $6

Race 6, $1 double partwheel: 6,7/4,7,8= $6