12/16/2004 1:00AM

Swing for a Grand Slam pick 4

Jack Coady/Coady Photography
Coach Jimi Lee wins the Iowa Sprint at Prairie Meadows in July.

OZONE PARK, N.Y. - With Christmas a week away and Aqueduct about to take a nine-day hiatus after Sunday's card, this weekend is a horseplayer's best and perhaps last chance to win some extra spending money for the holidays.

One of the better opportunities for a worthwhile exotic payoff involves Calder's "Grand Slam II" all-stakes pick four, but winning it won't be easy. The two turf races, the La Prevoyante and William L. McKnight, each drew overflow fields of 13, including an also-eligible; and the dirt races, the Kenny Noe Jr. and the Fred Hooper, attracted respective fields of 11 and 12 runners.

Come up with the right combination, and the reward should justify the time and effort. Consider the results from "Grand Slam I" two weeks ago, when two favorites, Better Than Bonds ($4.40) and Host ($5.40) and third-choice Something Ventured ($14.20) were part of a pick four that paid a whopping $4,557 for $1. Of course, the key was somehow envisioning that Leona's Knight ($38.60) would pull off a front-running upset at the expense of Smuggler, who at odds of 1-2, was the shortest price in the sequence and a single on the vast majority of tickets.

The two turf races in Grand Slam I were 12-horse fields as well, but the dirt races went with only six horses apiece, so there were only 36 horses to juggle. Saturday's Grand Slam II, with 48 horses in play pending late scratches, is exponentially tougher, and it seems likely there will be at least one bust-out winner somewhere in the mix.

But where? Some preliminary thoughts on each leg, in chronological order:

La Prevoyante: Something Ventured is back, after breaking from post 12 but falling into a perfect setup when Changing World set blazing fractions in the My Charmer. Something Ventured obviously can contend, but that last win was her first of the year, and her form has been erratic throughout 2004.

The most significant aspect of the race might be evaluating Humaita and Arvada, two Euro-bred 4-year-olds who won divisions of the Glens Falls on closing weekend at Saratoga. Arvada wired her division going 1 3/8 miles in 2:14 and earned a 103 Beyer Speed Figure. Humaita rallied from off the pace to win her division in 2:15.20, with a 94 Beyer.

Had that been a dirt sprint, it might be correct to judge Arvada's effort as being several lengths superior to that of Humaita, but in turf marathons, where a late burst of speed is vital, that is a dangerous assumption. Looked at from the perspective of late speed, Arvada ran her last three-eighths in about 35 seconds, while racing closest to the hedge. The last three-eighths of Humaita's division also went in 35 seconds, but Humaita was able to rally from fourth into that final fraction, and did so while taking the third and final turn three wide.

Humaita posted the stronger finish, and it is instructive to note what happened in their next starts, in different races against Literacy (also in the field Saturday): Humaita beat Literacy by eight lengths winning the Dowager; Arvada had the lead at the stretch call of the Long Island, but weakened late as Literacy beat her by a half-length for second.

Kenny Noe, Jr.: I'm going to exclude the 3-year-olds - Weigelia, Silver Wagon, and Medallist. Weigelia is under the gun from the rail post and has a consistent pattern of regressing right after a big-figure effort. Silver Wagon hasn't been out in 10 months, recovering from a chip in his left knee and a spur in his right knee, and it's hard to imagine him being sharp enough to beat these older sprinters. Medallist's form went south midway on the far turn of the Jim Dandy, and he showed none of his former speed when returned from a layoff under 134 pounds in the Fall Highweight.

Potential keys are Coach Jimi Lee, averaging a 105 Beyer in his last four starts at three different tracks; and Hasty Kris, a 7-year-old veteran from California who shipped in to win this race last year.

Note the following chart footnote from Hasty Kris's last race, which he lost by a length to Saint Afleet, last winter's Sunshine Millions Dash winner: "Bobbled slightly at the start . . . awaited room leaving the turn, then was blocked inside through the stretch and steadied late."

W.L. McKnight: It's not hard to project Certifiably Crazy getting the early lead from post 2 while prompted by Demeteor, but things get hazy after that. Dreadnaught is improving in the wake of a nose win over Certifiably Crazy in the Red Smith, but that was a weak Grade 2, considering the latter has been second in nine of 15 starts and was life and death to secure his last win in a second-level allowance for New York-breds.

But then this Grade 2 doesn't appear much tougher.

The interesting horse is Puppeteer, a Group 3 winner sprinting in France, who ships in from Santa Anita off a trainer change to Jeff Mullins for his second U.S. start. He drops 11 pounds from an even effort in the Shadwell Turf Mile, in which he was beaten just two lengths for second, and he is bred to handle this distance.

Fred Hooper: I'll try to anchor a play with Twilight Road, Super Frolic, and A Huevo, in the hopes that at least one of them will produce his "A" race, which would be good enough. Super Frolic and A Huevo will attract lots of support for obvious reasons, but Twilight Road may slip through the cracks first time back from a freshening of nearly two months.

Twilight Road was working on short rest against Super Frolic when a dull fourth as the favorite just before the layoff, but had a big-figure win in his previous dirt route at Calder this year and might be back to his best form after four straight bullet works over the track.