09/30/2003 11:00PM

Time for a road-trip doubleheader


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Fifteen years ago I started playing the "racetrack parlay." In an era before widespread simulcasting made betting races from different states easily accessible, I would bet an afternoon of racing at one track and "parlay" my experience to a night card elsewhere.

A group of my fellow racetrackers and I would drive and hour and a half from Louisville to play Turfway Park on a Saturday afternoon in Florence, Kentucky. Then if we did well, we would head north for another hour over the Ohio River to play the trotters at Lebanon Raceway.

As sick as we were to log all those miles, I look back on those experiences fondly.

Now it is time to relive them on a grander scale. Saturday, the parlay will be back. Only this time I'm going from Louisville to Keeneland in Lexington. Then I will take more than a three-hour drive to Hoosier Park in Anderson, Ind., on Saturday night.

If I get the fever, I might even do it Friday. The quality of the races justifies it.

The Grade 2 Alcibiades and the Grade 3 Phoenix Breeders' Cup highlight Keeneland's opening-day card on Friday.

Meanwhile, Hoosier Park will offer three stakes, a pair for Indiana-breds and the Grade 3, $300,000 Indiana Breeders Cup Oaks. The Oaks features a full field, with trainers capitalizing on one of the last opportunities to run their horses in a graded stakes race restricted to 3-year-old fillies.

I like Awesome Humor, winner of the Grade 1 Spinaway as a 2-year-old in 2002. Although not as dominant as a 3-year-old, she has continued to produce at a high level. Awesome Humor enters the Indiana Breeders' Cup Oaks following a trio of runner-up finishes, twice behind Island Fashion in the Delaware Oaks and Alabama and the other time behind older mare Smok'n Frolic in the Grade 3 Turfway Park Breeders' Cup.

Additionally, Awesome Humor receives a significant weight break from her opponents in part because she has not won a stakes race in 2003. Her talent and the weight edge may be enough to propel her to victory in a good field that includes Golden Marlin, Sue's Good News, Double Scoop, and Souris.

As good as these Friday's races are, they are warm-ups for Saturday's action.

The Lane's End Breeders' Futurity and the Sycamore Breeders' Cup support the Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile on a strong Saturday card at Keeneland.

Touch of the Blues, in the best form of his career after winning the Atto Mile, may be able to outfinish Trademark, Honor in War, and Della Francesca in the Shadwell. He finished second to Landseer in the Shadwell last year, ahead of Beat Hollow, who had been the dominant turf horse in the country through the spring and summer of 2002.

The Breeders' Futurity features more relative unknowns. Mass Media, winner of two starts at Louisiana Downs by a combined margin of more than 33 lengths, is expected to compete and is the horse to beat on Beyer Speed Figures and sprint form.

I will take a shot with Limehouse, who was uncharacteristically involved in the pace when fading to fifth in the Grade 1 Hopeful. If he settles, he may be able to negotiate 1 1/16 miles and win the Breeders' Futurity. That would make my three-hour drive from Keeneland to Hoosier seem like 30 minutes.

Even if things do not work out, there will be plenty of opportunities at Hoosier Park, most notably in the Grade 3 Indiana Derby. Wando could be a rewarding play in that race because many American horseplayers view Canadian form with skepticism.

Not me. I've watched enough Canadian Triple Crown runners compete to know that it takes a good horse to pull off that achievement. Considering that he will offer a better price, he rates a slight edge over the unbeaten Grand Hombre, winner of the Pennsylvania Derby by more than five lengths.

Keeneland online contest

Keeneland's website, already comprehensive with race replays, statistics, and press notes, will offer a free online handicapping contest this meet.

Prizes will be issued to daily winners and to the top 10 finishers over the course of the meet. First place for the person who accumulates the highest online bankroll is $3,000. Keeneland will also pay for the top two finishers to participate in a qualifying tournament of their choice for the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Tournament in Las Vegas in 2004. Rules are available online at www.keeneland.com/onlinecontest.