08/22/2007 11:00PM

Street Sense is a free single

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There are all sorts of adventurous and potentially lucrative wagers to be made Saturday at Saratoga on a 12-race card with 150 entrants for races totaling $2.048 million in purses. None of them, however, involves betting against Street Sense to win the 138th Travers Stakes.

This Travers is a mismatch of epic proportions, even more so than last year's rendition when Bernardini walloped Bluegrass Cat by 7 1/2 lengths with another 6 1/4 lengths back to Dr. Pleasure in third. At least Bluegrass Cat had won the Remsen at 2, finished second in the Kentucky Derby, and was coming off a blowout Grade 1 victory in the Haskell. Street Sense's six opponents, by contrast, have a combined record of 2 for 22 in stakes races of any kind, and are taking on a Breeders' Cup Juvenile and Kentucky Derby winner with a single Grade 2 victory to their combined credit. Anything can happen when the gates open, but something will have to go seriously wrong for Street Sense not to wallop this crew.

That isn't to say there aren't some nice 3-year-olds in the lineup. Sightseeing is an improving late bloomer who finished with a flourish behind Street Sense in the Jim Dandy. C P West may be the best 1-for-8 horse in training. Grasshopper comes off an impressive prep over the track and has tons of upside. One of those three should finish second to complete an exacta worth somewhere between $6 and $12, which at least is better than the $5 you got for the Bernardini-Bluegrass Cat combo a year ago.

Those living in hopes of an upset will focus on Street Sense's Travers prep in the Jim Dandy, where he was visually unimpressive wearing down C P West to win by 1 1/2 lengths in a performance that earned a mediocre Beyer Speed Figure of 104, low for a Jim Dandy and no better than what Grasshopper got winning a second-level allowance race the previous afternoon.

However, as Sightseeing's trainer, Shug McGaughey, said of his colt and C P West, "It's not as simple as us making up a couple of lengths on Street Sense off that race."

Street Sense was not fully cranked up for the Jim Dandy, just as he wasn't for his final starts before the Juvenile and Derby, the same M.O. trainer Carl Nafzger used with Unbridled and Unshaded to win a Derby, a Travers, and a Breeders' Cup Classic with them.

In other words, Sightseeing and C P West might run better, but Street Sense almost certainly will.

Still, many a handicapper will say there's "no value" in taking an odds-on favorite and that you have to get creative and bet on someone else. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of the concept of value. If you share my belief that Street Sense is at least 80 percent to win the Travers, any price over $2.50 for $2 offers value. He's 3-5 on the morning line, which would be spectacular value if you could really get that price, but you won't. He paid $2.70 winning the Jim Dandy; why should he pay any more in the Travers?

Looking at the surrounding races on the card may be the way to go. The Travers is the third leg of both an all-stakes $1 million guaranteed pick four and of a pick six that last year handled $329,081 without a carryover. Whereas last year those multi-race wagers paid a paltry $58 and $515 respectively, they included odds-on favorites Ashkal Way and Henny Hughes in the Bernard Baruch and King's Bishop. Those races look considerably more wide open this year with full, competitive fields.

Instead of devoting time and money into trying to beat Street Sense, take the free bingo square and start digging into those other races.

NYRA's addition of Handel a plus

The announcement Thursday that Hal Handel is joining the New York Racing Association as its chief operating officer is a welcome development. Handel, who used to run Monmouth and has spent the last decade with Greenwood Racing at Philadelphia Park, is one of the industry's most respected and experienced executives, and fills a gaping hole left by the departure of Bill Nader to Hong Kong four months ago.

The timing may seem odd, given that NYRA's franchise expires 128 days after the Travers. Handel acknowledged Thursday that he'll simply be unemployed come Jan. 1 if the franchise is awarded elsewhere, but any regime change by the dawn of 2008 is seeming more and more unlikely. Whatever Gov. Eliot Spitzer recommends to legislators in a promised Sept. 4 announcement will probably be denounced by his increasingly bitter political rivals, and any arrangement other than the status quo would require massive legislative changes unlikely to be enacted by the end of the year.

A short-term franchise extension is looking like as safe a proposition as betting Street Sense to show in the Travers.