06/16/2004 11:00PM

Two who can beat 'Beau'


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Class and speed are two of the most important handicapping factors. They are also among the most obvious.

The betting public jumps all over horses who have kept the best company and those who have run quickly. The true "finds" are those whose class and speed are less apparent, at least to the majority of bettors.

One such horse, Cloud Walker, runs in Saturday's $150,000 Aristides Breeders Cup at Churchill Downs. Even against the likes of graded stakes winners Beau's Town and Champali, I believe he can win. Here's why.

Cloud Walker is classier than what a quick glance at his past performances might suggest. He has yet to run in a stakes, a fact that will discourage traditional class handicappers from playing him. What he has done is win a stakes-quality race.

Competing May 20 in a six-furlong optional claiming race at Churchill, he outran a quality field in fast time. Among those he defeated: Mountain General, the defending Aristides champion; Strength and Honor, a winner of 6 of 14 starts who earned a 112 Beyer this spring at Keeneland; and stakes winners Clock Stopper and Discreet Hero.

Cloud Walker won despite doing the dirty work. He pressured Strength and Honor into torrid splits of 20.94 and 43.53 seconds, and the pair opened up six lengths on the field turning into the stretch. Strength and Honor was the first to cave in, but Cloud Walker kept going, establishing a two-length lead at the eighth pole and holding on for a three-quarter-length victory over Mountain General. It was his fifth victory in seven starts.

Cloud Walker ran six furlongs in 1:09.32, earning a 99 Beyer. I had him running the equivalent of a 105 with my own figures, or about two or three lengths faster.

In this case, the Beyer reflects a track variant based on one-turn races from May 20 while mine reflects all dirt races run that day.

Beyond the figures, it bears noting that Clock Stopper, the fourth-place finisher behind Cloud Walker, came back to romp in an allowance at Churchill last week. Making his second start following a layoff, he figured to improve - and he did. Clock Stopper ran a 107 Beyer.

Good news for value seekers - Clock Stopper's return victory is absent from Cloud Walker's past performances because he ran fourth in that May 20 race. Only the top three finishers are listed in the company lines of the past performances.

Their names are italicized when they win their next start, meaning if Clock Stopper had run third and returned to win, his next-out victory would be there for all to see.

For these reasons, I also like Mountain General in the Aristides. He also exits the same quick, productive race - having been the runner-up to Cloud Walker.

He had the easier trip rallying from off fast splits in that May 20 race, but at least on paper, another quick pace could develop in the Aristides. Additionally, Cloud Walker is unfavorably drawn inside the other speed horses - Beau's Town, Great Notion, and Champali.

Mountain General, the lone closer in the six-horse field, will be on my exotics tickets and will be my saver if Cloud Walker and likely favorite Beau's Town go too quickly in the early stages of the race.

Beau's Town, winner of the Grade 2 Bing Crosby Handicap last year, is the horse to beat. He seems likely to be overbet, however, following a win in the Ford Express Stakes at Lone Star on May 8, his second race of the year.

In general, Kentucky horseplayers tend to look down on shippers from Texas - viewing them as second rate - but I'm expecting them to pounce on Beau's Town. His last race jumps out of the past performances. He ran six furlongs in a track-record 1:07.96 after a half-mile in a 42.99 seconds.

That is not a misprint, although as one would expect from those times, the Lone Star track was as fast as pavement. On that card, $10,000 claimers went a half-mile in 44.25 and six furlongs in 1:09.60.

Beau's Town drifted out in the stretch - a discouraging sign from a horse that had ankle surgery last fall - but most other indications are positive from a horse who has won 11 of 17 races and more than $548,000.

He is a deserving favorite, but Cloud Walker and Mountain General also have virtues, and their strengths seem less likely to draw attention. I'm betting on a mild upset, focusing on Cloud Walker and using Mountain General to a lesser extent.