11/04/2004 12:00AM

Straight Line playable despite negative signs

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Some players will be betting the key-race angle when supporting Greater Good in Saturday's Iroquois Stakes at Churchill Downs. On the other hand, I'm taking Straight Line, a horse coming out of what might be called a negative key race.

Straight Line exits the Grade 1 Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland, a race that has not been immediately productive. In a couple of notable next-out efforts from some of its competitors, the winner, Consolidator, ran fourth the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, and runner-up Patriot Act came back to run fifth in a maiden race at 1-5 odds.

Their off-the-board performances may cause the betting public to dismiss the quality of the Breeders' Futurity, and, in turn, Straight Line's fourth-place finish. Good.

Regardless of how both Consolidator and Patriot Act came back to run, I'm convinced they are classy horses. And the fact is that Straight Line ran within six lengths of the winner in a Grade 1 race.

Dropped into the Grade 3 Iroquois, he should be a major force. Following the poor subsequent performances of Consolidator and Patriot Act, the price should be right on the stakes-winning Straight Line, who has already earned Beyer Speed Figures of 80 or more in three of five starts.

Greater Good, the likely favorite, is a quality horse, having won the Kentucky Cup Juvenile. He figures to offer little value, however. Of the four horses he beat in the Kentucky Cup, two have won, including runner-up Magna Graduate, who scored in an entry-level allowance at Keeneland.

With Magna Graduate's name italicized in the past performances, indicating he was a next-out winner, he is even more likely to appeal to the betting public.

Other interesting starters include Chief Commander and Highgrove, two of the fastest maiden winners of the recently concluded Keeneland meet.

They earned Beyer Speed Figures of 86 and 83, respectively, in their maiden wins. By way of comparison, the fastest 2-year-old maiden winner at Keeneland was Spanish Chestnut, who earned a 94 Beyer in the slop Oct. 13.

Last week, racing over a fast track in the Lone Star Juvenile, Spanish Chestnut finished second, running an 84 Beyer.

It is important to note that lightly raced 2-year-olds tend to run higher Beyers in sprints than routes. (Of the five maiden special weight routes for 2-year-olds at Keeneland last month, Bucharest was the fastest winner with a 77 Beyer.) The added distance in routes seems to fatigue young horses more so than older runners.

When also-eligible runs, take a second look

Last fall I noted the overlays available on also-eligibles that draw in on raceday. That trend is continuing this meet at Churchill Downs. As in past meets, the track has allowed up to four also-eligibles to draw into an oversubscribed race.

Because some bettors presume these horses will be scratched - which they often are - they tend to be overlooked by the betting public. Additionally, these also-eligibles are also rarely among the selections of professional handicappers and touts, who do not wish to point bettors toward a horse that in all likelihood will not start. So instead of a horse starting at 5-1 odds, it might go to post at an overlaid 6-1 or 7-1.

The overlaid prices are even more noticeable in multiple-race wagers, such as the pick three. Two examples took place on Wednesday: Irena Point, starting at 6-1 odds as horse No. 18 in the fifth race, ended a pick three that paid $364. A race later, No. 15, Bid Bad George, won the sixth at 4-1 odds, ending a $304.20 pick three.

To put those payoffs in perspective, a parlay involving Irena Point and the two prior winners - favorites Whose Career ($7.80) and Wild As Elle ($3.40) would have returned about $93. A $2 parlay with Wild As Elle, Irena Point, and Big Bad George would have yielded $119.

Large fields in these races also contributed to these large payoffs. Beginning Saturday, some races will have shorter fields. Jockeys complained of safety concerns, and Churchill reduced maximum field size for dirt races from 14 to 12.