06/22/2006 12:00AM

Sure can't beat 20-1 in Colonial Turf Cup

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EQUI-PHOTOS
Can't Beat It wins the Hallandale Beach Stakes at Gulfstream, defeating International Cat and Lewis Michael, both of whom he will face again on Saturday.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Horseplayers looking for the most opportune betting race of the weekend might want to look past the big trio of tracks - Belmont Park, Hollywood Park, and Churchill Downs - and instead fix their handicapping gaze on Colonial Downs.

Saturday's $1 million Colonial Turf Cup, a 1 3/16-mile turf race, offers an ultra-competitive field, made up of 14 entrants and no clear-cut favorite. Seemingly, the race is ripe for longshot winner - and I think I have just the horse. At least, I hope so.

Can't Beat It, 20-1 on the morning line, can score an upset in the Colonial Turf Cup. A late finisher, he began to blossom this winter in Florida, winning two consecutive turf races at Gulfstream Park. First, he beat the now-Grade 2-placed Tahoe Warrior in an allowance in January, and followed that up with a powerful victory in the Feb. 12 Hallandale Beach Stakes, a race in which he beat Colonial Turf Cup starters Lewis Michael and International Cat.

Knowing the opportunities that would become available to him if he could successfully transfer his form to dirt, his connections then took a chance with him in the Fountain of Youth Stakes, a race that put an end to his win streak. Lacking the acceleration and late punch he had exhibited on turf, he ran sixth, beaten seven lengths.

Yet his Fountain of Youth performance was respectable. He earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 84 - his top figure on dirt - and finished in front of some quality dirt horses, such as the eventual Belmont winner, Jazil, who ran seventh.

With Can't Beat It having been off since that March 4 Fountain of Youth, my guess is that the public will look past him in favor of others who have run over the last month or two. Not me - this horse seems fit and fresh. He has trained consistently since late-March, breezing five-eighths of a mile eight times since late April.

His trainer, Marty Wolfson, is also very skilled with bringing horses back fit following layoffs, although that is not reflected in the short-term statistics at the bottom of Can't Beat It's past performances. Digging deeper with Daily Racing Form's Formulator software, Wolfson has gone 14 for 66 (21 percent winners) over the last five years with horses returning on 61 to 180 days' rest. A $2 wager on each of those runners would have yielded an average return of $2.16.

Beyond doing well long term with fresh runners, Wolfson also has a history of success when he ships out of his base in Florida. He has compiled a 5-6-3 record with 24 starters racing outside Florida over the last five years (a $3.42 return). In a couple of notable examples, Miesque's Approval won the Maker's Mark Mile earlier this year for Wolfson, and Pampered Princess won the Spinster for him last fall. Both races came at Keeneland.

Beyond these notable trainer angles, Can't Beat It just acts like one of the fastest horses in the field. The Beyer Figure of 94 that he earned for winning the Hallandale is second-highest grass figure in the field behind the 99 Beyer that Kip Deville posted for winning the Grand Prairie Turf Challenge over a soft course at Lone Star Apr. 29.

Obviously, Can't Beat It is going to need a smooth trip if he is to win in a 14-horse field. But if he remains anywhere close to his morning line price, he looks like a horse worth playing.

As for the others, my second choice is Lewis Michael, who ran a troubled fifth behind Can't Beat It in the Hallandale Beach Stakes. Since that time, he has performed well on dirt, running fourth behind Sweeetnorthernsaint in the Illinois Derby and close second to Sunriver in the Peter Pan. The latter effort earned him a 102 Beyer, the top last-race figure in the race - although it came on dirt, not turf.

If he is able to duplicate that figure on turf, a surface on which he has recorded his two victories, he would likely prove good enough to win the Colonial Turf Cup. I am just not convinced that is going to happen. He got away with a dream trip in the Peter Pan, setting a slow pace, and seems unlikely to receive such a favorable circumstance Saturday.

I still anticipate a good effort. He was beaten only 4 1/2 lengths by Can't Beat It in the Hallandale Beach, despite being blocked in traffic for much of the race.