08/15/2005 11:00PM

Swift Dakota: Let price be your guide

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CHICAGO - A lot of betting favorites are the product of a mass knee-jerk reaction. See Spot. See Spot win. Bet on Spot the next time he races.

The problem is, people are very often playing a losing game of catch-up. The horse's form is moving faster than their wager. The winning day has passed before the play can be made.

All this may or may not have something to do with Swift Dakota, who starts Thursday at Arlington in the eighth race, an entry-level 1 1/8-mile turf allowance for Illinois-breds. , co-bred and owned by former Illinois governor Jim Edgar, debuted April 23 at Hawthorne for trainer Chris Block. He lost that race by 13 lengths, lost his next one by 21, and was beaten more than 25 lengths his third time out. Then came a grass experiment June 22 at Arlington, and Swift Dakota was a horse transformed, winning by three lengths at odds of 16-1.

Five weeks later, the collective knee jerked. Facing other winners for the first time, racing on wet turf course, Swift Dakota was assumed to be the next coming of Round Table. He was bet down to 6-5, and the Swift Dakota saga had a fairly sad yet entirely predictable ending: a dull sixth-place finish.

Now we are all wondering: Was that breakthrough maiden win a mirage? Or, did Swift Dakota just flounder on a yielding course he didn't care for in his last start? The way one answers should have something do to with the horse's price. If he's hammered down below fair value again, Swift Dakota should be avoided. But if the turf is good or firm, and Swift Dakota is something like 7-2 or higher, he might be worthy of some kind of play.

The inner rail on the turf course will evidently have been moved pretty far out into the course before Wednesday's racing, since only 10 were allowed into the body of this field, and four others are stuck on the also-eligible list. With the rail out, speed sometimes holds well on the Arlington grass, something that definitely was not happening last week. Stretchout sprinter , second in Swift Dakota's last race - and second, in fact, in 3 of 4 career starts on turf - looks like a serious contender, though 1 1/8 miles might be slightly farther than he wants to go.