01/04/2010 1:00AM

Value lies beneath Quality Road in exacta


LEXINGTON, Ky. - The Grade 3 Hal's Hope is the feature race at Gulfstream Park on Sunday's opening-day card. Quality Road, who won the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth, the Grade 1 Florida Derby, and the Grade 2 Amsterdam last year, is making his first start as a 4-year-old. He earned a career-best 113 Beyer at this one-turn mile distance on this track in the Fountain of Youth, so another big effort would be no surprise. Nevertheless, it might be a good idea to make your bets late enough to see how well he behaves when he reaches the starting gate, as that was a problem for him last time when he threw a fit at the gate and had to be scratched from the Breeders' Cup Classic.

Harlem Rocker, an uncoupled stablemate of Quality Road, is the rival who seems most likely to threaten, but only if he delivers a top performance. He earned a 106 Beyer when he crossed the wire first and was disqualified and placed second in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile in 2008. That matched his career-best performance from earlier that year when he won the Grade 3 Withers in his third career start. If Harlem Rocker runs his best race, and Quality Road is a step or two slow as he makes his first start in three months, an upset is possible. But there is another scenario for bettors to consider. If Harlem Rocker doesn't run his best race he will still be a major player in the exotics, but he won't necessarily be dominant in the battle for the bottom slot in the exacta.

Le Grand Cru won the Grade 3 Kelso at Belmont two races ago, then won the Grade 3 off-the-turf Bold Ruler at Aqueduct. He figures to enjoy a good trip while either on or up close to the lead, and might hold on well enough to be part of the winning exacta combination.

You and I Forever is better than his 11th-place finish in the Grade 2 Clark Handicap suggests, and would be dangerous in the exotics with a return to form. His sharp works since that race are encouraging.

Helsinki ran an improved race when he beat softer company in a second-level optional $50,000 claiming field last time, which came in his return from a seven-month layoff. He has back class, and might continue to improve at a price.

I will try to collect a square price by keying Quality Road on top while using Le Grand Cru, You and I Forever, and Helsinki second in the exacta.

Monrovia: Reba Is Tops a key horse

The Grade 3 Monrovia Handicap, for fillies and mares, will also be contested on Sunday. A field of 11 is scheduled to run 6 1/2 furlongs on the downhill turf course at Santa Anita.

Tuscan Evening owns the best record with five top-three finishes from six starts against graded stakes company, including wins in the Grade 2 Las Palmas and the Grade 2 Royal Heroine, and a second behind Ventura in the Grade 1 Matriarch. She also shows 2 wins and 2 third-place finishes from 5 races at this distance on this turf course. But that doesn't make her a slam dunk in this field.

Pasar Silbano finished second, one position and 1 1/2 lengths ahead of Tuscan Evening at this distance on this course in October in the Grade 3 Senator Ken Maddy, while Reba Is Tops finished second, three-quarters of a length ahead of her at this distance on this course in April in the Grade 3 Las Cienegas. Lemon Chiffon, Queen Ofthe Catsle, and Lucky Copy are among the other leading contenders in the exotics.

Paying attention to horses for courses won't help much in this field. Eight of the 11 runners have won at least 40 percent of their races on this course, or finished first or second in at least 50 percent of those starts.

Reba Is Tops has been consistent, having participated in the exacta in seven of her last eight races, with the exception her sixth in the Ken Maddy three races ago. I will hope she runs well at reasonable odds while betting on her to win and using her in second in the exacta beneath Tuscan Evening, Pasar Silbano, Lemon Chiffon, Queen Ofthe Catsle, and Lucky Copy.