09/14/2007 12:00AM

Toss two Mile favorites to find value

EmailLEXINGTON, Ky. - When a $1 million purse is offered in a Grade 1 stakes race there shouldn't be any shortage of horses competing for the $600,000 winner's share. Of course, $200,000 for finishing second isn't a bad day at the office, either. So it is no surprise to see 14 horses entered for the Woodbine Mile, a one-turn turf race, on Sunday.

Bettors can benefit from the large field as well. The race should be competitive enough to provide attractive payoffs in the exotic pools. The key is to find a potential weakness in one or more of the leading contenders. If you can demote them by a position or two in the exotics, or leave them off your tickets completely, you can go shopping for other contenders at higher odds to replace them.

I took a look at the results of the turf races run at Woodbine on Sept. 7, 8, 9, 12, and 13. Interestingly, there was only a single front-running winner from those 11 races, and that was an even-money favorite. Another winner came from third at the first call, while two others were closers. The majority of the winners rallied from midpack to win.

If that trend continues, it would hinder Remarkable News, who is one of the favorites. Remarkable News was either first or second at the first call in six of his last seven races. The one time Remarkable News was not up close early during that period, he was seventh early and finished sixth, so a change of tactics might not be a good idea for him. He is also returning from a layoff, and might not run his best race in his return.

Shakespeare will also be one of the favorites. To bet, or not to bet, that is the question. Shakespeare returned from a 21-month layoff to win a hard-fought $100,000 optional claiming race in his comeback on Aug. 2. Will he regress second time back? He has trained well since that race, but it is interesting to note that trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, whose win percentage this year is 23 percent overall, shows a moderate 14 percent wins, and a low $0.57 return on investment, with runners second time back following a layoff of 180 days and longer.

If either or both of these contenders regress, there should be some fun, and perhaps some profits, to be found in the exotic pools.

I can't throw out all of the leading contenders. In fact, one of them is my selection to win the race. Art Master won the Grade 3 Poker at Belmont two races ago, then finished only a half-length behind Shakespeare last time. His off-the-pace running style is a good fit for the way this turf course has been playing, and the hope is that a favorable trip will give him an edge in this wide-open field.

Kip Deville rallied from midpack to contend for the lead, then was outkicked late and finished third as the favorite in the Grade 3 Oceanport stakes at Monmouth. That was his return from a two-month break, and any improvement in this race would make him a prime contender.

Becrux should be close enough during the early stages of this race to benefit from the turf pace bias. His second-place finish in the Del Mar Mile was a solid performance, and suggests that he can make his presence felt in the exotics.

Bettors looking for a home run should consider Estevan. He earned a career-best 98 Beyer while finishing a contending fourth as a 41-1 longshot in the Grade 2 Play the King, a race he needed following a layoff of nearly three months. Continued progress in this race would give him a chance for an upset at a big price.

There are other horses with the talent to win the race, but they will have to hope that Woodbine's turf pace bias plays differently on Sunday than it has in recent days.

Le Cinquieme Essai was on or near the lead vs. faster fractions in his recent seven-furlong races and should be at least as prominent as he moves to a mile.

Sky Conqueror was a closer in longer races and will probably be in the rear part of the pack early vs. the faster fractions he will see here. Host is another contender who will have to rally as a closer.