07/06/2005 11:00PM

Swept Gold has talent, right price in Debutante

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Trainer D. Wayne Lukas has won six runnings of the Debutante at Churchill Downs, including four since 1995. Jockey Pat Day has been equally successful in the race, also winning six.

I doubt either will win a seventh Debutante on Saturday. Lukas's representative, Dance Daily, has run times and figures well below par in her two starts, and Day's mount, the Frank Brothers-trained Enth, could regress off her lone race if she is forced to chase a fast pace.

Talent wins horse races, and the talent in the Debutante runs through Joint Effort and Swept Gold.

The problem with Joint Effort is value, or lack thereof. Starting for leading trainer Dale Romans and coming off an 85 Beyer Speed Figure - the highest by a 2-year-old filly at Churchill Downs this meet - she figures to be heavily bet.

Swept Gold, by contrast, might slip between the cracks and become playable at square odds. Although she won her debut with aplomb, she did not post a time or figure that will get players lining up to wager on her at the betting windows. She raced five furlongs in 58.08 seconds, getting a 75 Beyer.

Some may quickly glance at her figure and assume she cannot keep up with Joint Effort, who posted a Beyer 10 points higher, or approximately three to four lengths faster on the Beyer scale. But I see more reason for Swept Gold to improve upon her race than Joint Effort. Take note that Swept Gold's 75 Beyer came in her debut, a race she likely needed to gain fitness and experience.

Most juveniles run faster second time out. Joint Effort did, leaping from a 62 Beyer to an 85 Beyer. In the former race, she ran second to Enth in the slop.

That is not to say that Swept Gold figures to take a 23-point leap forward; a small improvement of 5-10 Beyer points is more realistic.

Additionally, the Debutante figures to unfold as her debut did - with the early leaders blazing early. Six of the nine starters won their only races on the front end, and one in particular, Effectual, did so setting a particularly swift pace.

Swept Gold can stalk and finish, which she illustrated in her debut. Blocked behind fillies in traffic in her only race June 19, she split rivals leaving the turn and swallowed up the leaders in a flash. She crossed the wire with her ears pricked.

Whether Joint Effort can adapt to such a fast pace remains to be seen. She has been more a pace-pressing type in each of her two starts, and breaking from the fence, she might get sucked into a fast early pace. The alternative - taking back and likely eating dirt behind horses, without experience doing so - could similarly result in regression.

Joint Effort would be the play of the Debutante at equal odds, but even with her racing on short rest, it is hard to envision too many bettors not being attracted to her.

Swept Gold, on the other hand, should be an overlay, in great part because popular jockey Rafael Bejarano is not riding at Churchill on Saturday. He rode Swept Gold in her debut, but he has riding opportunities in New York on Saturday and Brian Hernandez Jr. picks up the mount.

Hernandez has regularly been the go-to rider for Swept Gold's trainer, Steve Flint, when Bejarano has been unavailable. Hernandez and Flint have gone 3 for 10 at Churchill this spring, with the winners returning an average of $14.13.

Their favorable history together extends beyond the Churchill meet. Hernandez won the Louisiana Handicap aboard the Flint-trained Gigawatt at Fair Grounds late last year. Flint has no reservations about using him in stakes.

I also like Swept Gold's upside based on pedigree. She is the first foal out of dual graded stakes winner Swept Away, an accomplished sprinter who competed in stakes in 14 of her 16 starts. Unbeaten in two starts at age 2, she eventually won 9 races and over $550,000 for Richard, Bertram, and Elaine Klein, the owners-breeders of Swept Gold. Six times Swept Away earned triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures.