09/08/2008 12:00AM

Use favorites on top in Woodbine graded stakes

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - There are three graded stakes races on Woodbine's Sunday card, all scheduled to be run on the turf. Value seekers will probably have to resort to exotic wagers to find betting value, as the likely favorites in those races should be difficult to beat.

The stakes begin in the fourth race with the Grade 2 Canadian, a $300,000 turf race for fillies and mares at 1 1/8 miles. Forever Together is the filly to beat. She improved by leaps and bounds when she moved to the grass for the first time three races ago. Bettors who caught on early to her preference for that surface were rewarded with good payoffs. She won a stakes at Arlington as an 8-1 outsider in her grass debut. She then finished a contending third as a 44-1 longshot on the jump into Grade 1 stakes company at Belmont in the Just a Game. Next time out she won the Grade 1 Diana at 9-1 at Saratoga.

Forever Together used deep-closing tactics in all three of those races, and was kicking home strongly late when she ran out of ground going a mile in the Just a Game. She gained two lengths during the last furlong of that race, and lost by only 1 1/2 lengths, so if the race had been run at today's 1 1/8-mile distance she might have remained unbeaten on turf. Then again, rather than relying on the extra furlong she'll cover today, she could make things much easier for herself by staying closer to the early pace, or by making an earlier move into contention. She has already demonstrated tactical speed in sprint races, so she should be able to make that adjustment if her connections ask her to do so.

Bettors who key Forever Together on top in the exotics should find a number of contenders to juggle in the minor slots. J'ray won the Gradeo3 Matchmaker last time. Quiet Jungle lost three of her last four starts by a neck or less. Ciao finished just 3 3/4 lengths behind the winner of the Grade 1 Beverly D. as a 56-1 longshot. Sealy Hill finished second twice and third once in her last three graded stakes runs at Woodbine. The Niagara Queen is improving, and won the Grade 2 Dance Smartly last time. And Callwood Dancer has won 5 of 9 starts on the turf at Woodbine.

The seventh race is the Grade 1 Northern Dancer, a 1 1/2-mile grass race for 3-year-olds and up with a $750,000 purse. Better Talk Now hasn't won recently, but he has been running in contention against strong opponents. He was beaten by 2 1/2 lengths or less by Grade 1 rivals in each of his last three races. And he was only a half-length behind second-place finisher Curlin in the Man o' War two races ago. I'm not usually a fan of habitual deep closers, but he still deserves top billing in this field.

German invader Quijano is an interesting possibility in the exotics, based on his close third in the Grade 1 Canadian International at Woodbine last year. Strike a Deal checked in fourth, second, and second again while close to the winners of Grade 1 and 2 races in his last three races. Seaside Retreat must be considered with 3 wins from 5 starts on the turf at Woodbine. Frost Giant ran a career-best race when he upset Grade 1 foes on the dirt as a 40-1 longshot last time in the Suburban. Regression seems more likely than a similar result for Frost Giant today, but a square price would make it worthwhile to give him the benefit of the doubt.

The Grade 1, $1 million Woodbine Mile, for 3-year-olds and up, is the ninth race. Kip Deville will be hard to deny at a small price. He won the Breeders' Cup Mile three races ago, then followed with another victory against Grade 1 rivals in the Maker's Mark Mile. He was a prompt 2-5 favorite when he won the Grade 3 Poker last time.

Ventura, a filly trained by Bobby Frankel, looms as the most likely candidate for the bottom half of the exacta. She shows two wins, a loss by a nose, and a third-place finish from four tries against graded stakes foes. If she misfires, Just Rushing and Wollemi Pine, who finished first and second in the Grade 2 Play King, are the horses most likely to capitalize.