03/21/2007 11:00PM

A vote of confidence for Panty Raid

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - When a horse fails to meet expectations by running a poor race, most trainers regroup. They scope the horse back at the barn, check his legs for injuries, and test his blood. Then in the coming weeks they go back to working the horse.

If pleased, they will often return the horse against the same level of opposition. Or if discouraged, a move down the ladder could follow.

Very few are as bold to go hunting for tougher opposition, at least not those that win often. Yet that is exactly what Eclipse Award-winning trainer Todd Pletcher is doing with Panty Raid by running her in the Bourbonette Stakes on the Lane's End undercard Saturday at Turfway Park.

For that reason, I can't wait to bet her. By running her in the Bourbonette, a Grade 3 race, Pletcher is suggesting to horseplayers that he has lost no confidence in the filly, despite her sixth-place finish as the favorite in a first-level allowance at Gulfstream on Feb. 8.

It is not as if the move into stakes company is without logic. Panty Raid appeared from her first race to be a filly with graded stakes potential. Debuting last August at Saratoga, she defeated eventual stakes winner Autobahn Girl by 7 3/4 lengths.

Autobahn Girl was not the only good filly in there, either. Of the six fillies she defeated that day, four have since gone on to score victories, all at major tracks in New York or Kentucky.

Could Panty Raid have distance limitations? Perhaps. Her maiden win was at six furlongs, and she was beaten 10 1/2 lengths when racing seven furlongs Feb. 8. But I'm sure Pletcher has considered this as well, and he is passing the safe option - say running back in a first-level allowance going three-quarters - and shooting for this graded stakes race at a mile instead.

My guess is that some bettors will also balk at the prospect of playing Panty Raid because Pletcher's regular go-to rider, John Velazquez, is on Olivine for David Donk. I am putting that out of my mind. Emphasizing jockey moves leads to confusion in the long run.

As great as Velazquez is, Panty Raid has as good a rider in Edgar Prado. And for whatever reason, bear in mind that Prado is riding three of Pletcher's four starters on Saturday at Turfway.

Whether Panty Raid can handle the extra distance and Polytrack remains to be seen, but on pure talent she as good as any of her Bourbonette rivals, and following her recent failure, the price will be right.

Rushaway: Meritocracy offers value

A race later in the Rushaway Stakes, I will play Meritocracy to rebound from a troubled trip when seventh in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes.

A horse that races best when on or near the pace, he pretty much lost all chance at the start of the March 3 Fountain of Youth. He was off a step slow and was ping-ponged in the opening strides. Racing in ninth after a quarter-mile, he seemed to get discouraged and never mounted a significant challenge.

Meritocracy was also running against some of the best 3-year-olds in the country - horses such as Scat Daddy, Stormello, and Nobiz Like Shobiz.

He is matched against softer in the Rushaway. Dominican and Reata's Rocket are nice horses, but they do not appear to be of the class of Scat Daddy and Nobiz Like Shobiz.

Look past his Fountain of Youth race and Meritocracy's form looks good. Two starts ago he ran a close second in an allowance to Bold Start, who went on to finish second in the Grade 2 Hutcheson on March 3.

Meritocracy shares some similarities with Panty Raid, most notably his connections of Prado and Pletcher. Like her, he also figures to be a decent price.

Lane's End: Hard Spun can rebound

Hard Spun appears to be the fastest and most talented starter in the Lane's End field. Despite coming off a wide fourth-place finish in the Feb. 19 Southwest at Oaklawn Park, he marginally owns the top last-race Beyer Speed Figure, a 95.

Considering that he was buried by a terrible draw in post 9 going a mile at Oaklawn in the Southwest, his first defeat in five starts can be forgiven. Jockey Mario Pino did his best to try to save a little ground, but because so many horses shared Hard Spun's style, he had little option but to take a hold of Hard Spun and race in the four path.

When cut loose after being rated in fifth, he made a run on the second turn before flattening out, as many front-runners will do when rated for the first time.

Although Hard Spun is drawn in post 10 for the Lane's End, I am anticipating a better trip, if for no other reason than there is a long run to the first turn at 1 1/8 miles. Expect him to resume his winning ways.