09/28/2005 11:00PM

They won't catch Sand Springs

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NEW YORK - Five Grade 1 races at Belmont Park, one Grade 1 and a pair of Grade 2 events at Oak Tree at Santa Anita, and several other Grade 2 events at other tracks around the country make Saturday a crucial day for formulating the outlook for the Oct. 29 Breeders' Cup.

Flower Bowl Invitational

One of the finest pieces of work trainer Bill Mott has done in his Hall of Fame career has been the job he has done this year with Sand Springs. Previously a speedball who would crumble when she heard footsteps in the late stages, Sand Springs is still a front-runner. But since moving into Mott's barn, she has achieved career form and carried her speed to win three stakes from five starts. She is the lone speed in this spot, and is the pick to again go wire to wire.

There was a lot to like about the way Sand Springs finished while winning her last two starts. She got her last quarter-mile in 23.04 seconds in the Just a Game Breeders' Cup two starts back, and when stretched out to 1 1/8 miles in the Grade 1 Diana Handicap last time out, she went her last eighth in 11.51. The 1 1/4-mile distance in this race is a question. But in her only attempt at this trip, in the 2003 American Oaks, she finished second, ahead of 12 opponents, and that after breaking from post 13. Given that she is a much better horse now, and figures to be unmolested on the lead like she was in the Diana, I will bet she gets the trip.

Melhor Ainda may be able to overcome Sand Springs's huge tactical advantage, but at an unappealing price, it may not be worth paying to find out.

Indiana Derby

The favorites here seem vulnerable. Scrappy T has two of the three best Beyer Figures in the field, but he has not raced since his second in the Preakness in which he nearly caused Afleet Alex to fall down, and that is a layoff too long for my liking. Don't Get Mad comes out of races such as the Travers and the Swaps, but despite his victory in the Northern Dancer Breeders' Cup three starts back, questions remain about his effectiveness around two turns.

I like Southern Africa, who looks to be coming up to a big performance. Southern Africa won the Lone Star Derby four starts back at this distance, and you can draw a line through his next two outings: overmatched and at the wrong distance in the Belmont Stakes, and a failed attempt on the turf in the Arlington Classic. Southern Africa was freshened after that, and returned with a solid effort in the recent Pennsylvania Derby, in which he came from way back to finish second to Sun King. Southern Africa earned a career-best Beyer of 98, and that he did so as a 3-year-old off a layoff suggests he may be poised for a big move forward in that department.

Goodwood BC Handicap

Rock Hard Ten loves the track, and he is reportedly training great. However, he has not raced since his Big Cap win on March 5, and the layoff combined with the fact that his main goal is not this race, but the Breeders' Cup Classic in four weeks, makes me want to look for an upset. And the horse I'm going with is Total Impact.

Total Impact recently returned from a seven-month absence with a win in a small but very tough stakes at Del Mar. It was particularly encouraging that he won from well off the pace, because Total Impact is much more effective when close to the pace, and he might prove to be the controlling speed this time since this race lacks a clear front-runner. Total Impact will appreciate the added distance he gets Saturday, and it's worth noting he was beaten just a head in this race last year, two races after he showed he could win a big one when he took the Hollywood Gold Cup.

Saturday

Belmont Park: Flower Bowl Invitational
Fillies and mares, 3 and up, 1 1/4 miles, Inner Turf Course

Approximate post: Eastern-5:59 p.m., Central-4:59 p.m., Mountain-3:59 p.m., Pacific-2:59p.m.
Elmont, N. Y., forecast: Sunny, 68 degrees

PPHORSELAST 3 BEYERSODDS
1Secret Charm99899312-1
2Lune d'Orn/an/an/a12-1
3Wonder Again10199984-1
4Sundrop94n/an/a15-1
5Angara96102993-1
6Sand Springs104105967-2
7Film Maker98979812-1
8Melhor Ainda10199975-2
9Riskaverse90958720-1

Odds by Art Gropper

Santa Anita: Goodwood Breeders' Cup Handicap
3 and up, 1 1/8 miles

Approximate post: Eastern-5:46 p.m., Central-4:46 p.m., Mountain-3:46 p.m., Pacific-2:46 p.m.
Arcadia, Ca., forecast: Sunny, 85 degrees

PPHORSELAST 3 BEYERSODDS
1Roman Ruler1021071042-1
2Rock Hard Ten1071091021-1
3Preachinatthebar97999712-1
4Total Impact100888810-1
5Gotaghostofachance996510120-1
6Choctaw Nation1121001049-2

Odds by Michael Hammersly

Hoosier Park: Indiana Derby
3-year-olds, 1 1/16 miles

Approximate post: Eastern-9:50 p.m., Central-8:50 p.m., Mountain-7:50 p.m., Pacific-6:50 p.m.
Anderson, In., forecast: Partly cloudy, 65 degrees

PPHORSELAST 3 BEYERSODDS
1It's Time to Smile88877515-1
2Thor's Echo9493879-2
3Southern Africa9872846-1
4Greater Good83889510-1
5Scrappy T105102895-2
6Purim77105918-1
7Earths Vain Shadow80848312-1
8Apache Point83809720-1
9Don't Get Mad9988967-2

Track morning line odds