06/29/2005 11:00PM

Straight Line capable of upset

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NEW YORK - The $750,000 United Nations Stakes at Monmouth Park, and the $500,000 Suburban Handicap at Belmont Park are both Grade 1 events and the two richest races on Saturday's schedule. But the next two most lucrative races are at tracks not normally associated with big-figure purses. Those races are the $350,000 Ohio Derby at Thistledown, and the $300,000 Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Breeders' Cup Handicap.

Ohio Derby

Magna Graduate, the morning-line favorite, is likely to be overbet here off a running line last time out in the Lone Star Derby that actually looks better on paper than it really was. People may assume Magna Graduate was forced to lose ground around the first turn after breaking from post 11. But the fact is, he dropped back to last quickly and wasn't forced to lose any ground around the first turn. Folks may also be impressed by a rally that carried him to a fourth-place finish, which was okay, but was greatly aided by a quick early pace. Magna Graduate may win, especially in his first start for Todd Pletcher, who is successful a ridiculous 30 percent of the time in such situations, but his probable odds are unappealing.

Straight Line is a solid play here. Straight Line recently returned from a three-month absence to wallop older opponents in an optional claimer at Arlington Park. Even though this angle didn't work for me last week with Criminal Mind in the Colonial Turf Cup, moving from a race against older horses into one for straight 3-year-olds still amounts to a substantial class drop. Moreover, Straight Line earned a Beyer Speed Figure last time out of 97, which, although not a career-best for him, is better than what any other horse in this field has ever earned.

Straight Line is a question going two turns. But taking that kind of risk is acceptable when the horse in question isn't likely to be the favorite, and when he is the fastest in the race by a considerable margin.

Prairie Meadows Cornhusker

It is bad for one's parimutuel health to routinely bet horses coming off double-digit defeats like Musique Toujours. This, however, is not an especially tough stakes, and is a good spot for Musique Toujours to rebound at a square ticket.

Musique Toujours was a distant eighth in the New Orleans Handicap in his last start, but was up against it that day. For one, he was in with much tougher (Limehouse, the runner-up, recently won the Brooklyn Handicap). On top of that, he went against the grain of an intensely speed-biased surface. That race was almost four months ago, but running fresh is a positive for Musique Toujours. When he posted a 70-1 upset over a solid field in the Sunshine Millions Classic in January, he was coming off a five-month break. When he was a narrowly beaten second in the Claiming Crown Jewel last summer, it was off a two-month layoff.

There isn't a lot of speed in this race, which means that Musique Toujours should be a major player from the start. That, it turns out, is his most effective running style.

United Nations

With the presence of two Bobby Frankel-trained runners (License to Run and Exterior) with solid Southern California running lines, with last year's U.N. winner Request for Parole making his second start off a layoff, and with Better Talk Now sporting a dull-looking running line last time out in the Dixie, value may actually be had on Breeders' Cup Turf upsetter Better Talk Now. That's good, because he is the firm pick.

Saturday

Thistledown: Ohio Derby
3-year-olds, 1 1/8 miles

Approximate post: Eastern-4:45 p.m., Central-3:45 p.m., Mountain-2:45 p.m., Pacific-1:45 p.m.; North Randall, Oh., forecast: Sunny, 76 degrees

PPHORSELAST 3 BEYERSODDS
1Unbridled Energy9087864-1
2Magna Graduate9187885-2
3Silver Haze84858412-1
4It's Time to Smile75816215-1
5Palladio9086866-1
6Straight Line9715986-1
7Pinpoint6487817-2
8Hal's Image8358836-1

Track morning line odds

Monmouth Park: United Nations Stakes
3 and up, 1 3/8 miles, turf

Approximate post: E-5:28 p.m., C-4:28 p.m., M-3:28 p.m., P-2:28 p.m.; Oceanport, N. J., forecast: Partly cloudy, 80 degrees

PPHORSELAST 3 BEYERSODDS
1Better Talk Now87103963-1
2Gunning For94957530-1
3Cool Conductor9898956-1
4Request for Parole87971038-1
5License to Run90881015-1
6Silverfoot9895964-1
7Exterior101991007-2
8Shake the Bank72669150-1
9Navesink River95891028-1
10Spruce Run94828250-1

Odds by Art Gropper

Prairie Meadows: Cornhusker B.C. Handicap
3 and up, 1 1/8 miles

Approximate post: E-10:18 p.m., C-9:18 p.m., M-8:18 p.m., P-7:18 p.m.; Altoona, Ia., forecast: Partly cloudy, 84 degrees

PPHORSELAST 3 BEYERSODDS
1Lord of the Game10297983-1
2Habaneros8581986-1
3Cryptograph991001015-2
4Scooter Rains92827920-1
5Musique Toujours84107897-2
6Skipaslew8991044-1
7Tricky Mocha98848015-1
8Mambo Train90928115-1
9Silver Axe101819715-1

Coupled: Tricky Mocha and Silver Axe; track morning line odds