08/03/2005 11:00PM

There's reason to doubt In the Gold

Bill Denver/Equi-Photos
Maddalena wins the Old Hat in February with a career-best 102 Beyer.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Here are three trends to consider in handicapping Saturday's Grade 1 Test at Saratoga:

- Over the last 10 runnings, 9 winners entered the Test as a Grade 1 or Grade 2 winner, or having placed in a Grade 1 stakes.

- Nine of the 10 winners had also run at least a 96 Beyer Speed Figure before the Test.

- Eight of the last 10 winners had posted a Beyer of 93 or higher in their final prep. Interestingly, not a single winner of the Test entered after running a career-best figure leading up to the race.

How does Saturday's Test competitors fit those trends? In the Gold, Maddalena, Acey Deucey, and Sense of Style qualify on graded achievements.

Leave Me Alone, In the Gold, Maddalena, and Hide and Chic fit on the basis of their top Beyers, having all posted figures of 96 or higher.

And in the final category - earning a last-race Beyer of 93 or higher without it being a career-best race - In the Gold is the closest to qualify, even though she equaled her career-best figure last time out. Leave Me Alone, Acey Deucey, Flying Glitter, and Hide and Chic all ran fast enough in their latest, but did so with career-best figures, potentially making them vulnerable to a bounce. The fact that In the Gold qualified in all three areas initially drew my interest in her. The problem is, she has often shown a tendency to hang in the stretch.

In each of her last two starts, the Kentucky Oaks and the Acorn, she has looked the part of a winner leaving the turn, only to come up empty late. She proved unable to put a dent in Summerly's lead in Kentucky Oaks, finishing a flat second, and last time in the Acorn, she found a way to run third after looking like a five-length winner at the top of the stretch.

In the Acorn, she blew by runner-up Smuggler and victorious Round Pond on the turn without urging from jockey Rafael Bejarano. But when Bejarano asked her for her best in the stretch, she slowed down, losing to horses she had already passed. She lost by 1 1/2 lengths.

Those races were longer than the seven-furlong Test; the Kentucky Oaks was 1 1/8 miles, and the Acorn was a mile. She also faced many of the top 3-year-old fillies in the country.

In the Gold's one-turn record is superior to her two-turn mark, which will draw supporters, but I believe that is deceptive. When she won the seven-furlong Beaumont at Keeneland this spring, she narrowly outfinished Aspen Tree, another filly with questionable stretch determination. (A longshot in the Test, Aspen Tree has a 1-4-2 record in eight starts.)

Having doubts about In the Gold, my choice to win the Test is Maddalena. Although she did not run a Beyer of 93 or higher in her last start, she came close, posting a 92 in finishing a close second in the Grade 1 Prioress at Belmont.

Having twice posted Beyers of 102, Maddalena is capable of running fast, and unlike many of her opponents, she is not a likely bounce candidate off a career-best performance.

This is a filly who was all the rage at Gulfstream this winter before going off form in the spring. Now, coming off a reasonably good effort, Maddalena should be ready to cycle back to her best.

Her trainer, Todd Pletcher, is on a roll at Saratoga, just as he was at Gulfstream in the winter, when Maddalena was so dominant.

Unfortunately, the Test is not the great betting race that it could be. In the Gold and Hide and Chic, the Azalea Breeders' Cup runner-up, are coupled due to common ownership, as are Maddalena and Sense of Style.

Saint Liam must catch Commentator

The top older handicap horse in training, Saint Liam, should win the Whitney, which is the race after the Test. He has an experience edge over the talented Commentator and a talent edge over Limehouse and Pollard's Vision, other notable opponents.

It should be interesting to see how well Saint Liam rates and finishes behind what is expected to be a fast early pace. Commentator, who posted a 121 Beyer recently in winning an allowance by 16 1/2 lengths at Belmont, is a headstrong, free-running front-runner who often breaks his opponents hearts with demanding early fractions.