04/07/2004 11:00PM

Willing to reject the obvious


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - If you are like me, you have seen detective movies in which you anticipate a late twist to the ending because the facts seem too easily mapped out. That is the feeling I get analyzing Saturday's Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland.

Selecting Lion Heart seems too easy, too perfect. He looks like the lone speed of a paceless Blue Grass. Not only that, but Lion Heart, a Grade 1 winner, has also run some of the best pace and speed figures in the field. What more could a bettor want?

Something does not sit right with me, however. So rather than follow the evidence pointing to Lion Heart as the winner, I am trusting an instinct and taking the Bob Baffert-trained Preachinatthebar as a value-oriented alternative. Here's why.

Lion Heart will be short price. He has no chance of starting at his morning line price of 5-2, and is far more likely to go off at odds of 7-5 or less.

All the money pouring in on Lion Heart will cause his opponents to drift up in price, including Preachinatthebar.

Part of the reason for the short price on Lion Heart is that many will conclude that he is lone speed. But the time to play speed horses is not when it looks as if they are sure to get loose. Everyone is playing that angle.

Speed horses are most profitable when it seems they will have company up front. Many bettors look for closers in that situation, yet quite often the speed horses stick around at overlaid prices.

Beyond Lion Heart being heavily bet, what makes Preachinatthebar attractive? For starters, he's quick. His last two Beyer Speed Figures, a 101 earned in winning the Grade 2 San Felipe and a 98 for running third in the Sham Stakes at Santa Anita, rank as some of the best in the field.

They also match up well with trends for this race. Over the last 10 years, all but one Blue Grass winner (30-1 longshot Wild Syn in 1995) had earned a Beyer of 99 or higher in either of their two most recent Blue Grass preps.

Applying that 99 Beyer trend to this year's runners, only Limehouse, Lion Heart, Mustanfar, and Preachinatthebar qualify.

There is more to Preachinatthebar than figs. He is already a graded winner. He is a legitimate route horse, having scored his two victories around two turns. And he is sent out by Baffert, who has a proven track record with 3-year-olds on the Kentucky Derby trail.

Preachinatthebar should also receive a favorable trip, tracking Lion Heart on the outside.

As for the others, Limehouse and Mustanfar may be a bit overlooked exiting the Tampa Bay Derby. But I have doubts about Limehouse at 1 1/8 miles. He had a perfect stalking trip in the 1 1/16-mile Breeders' Futurity over the Keeneland track last fall, and finished an even-paced third. To his credit, he won the two-turn Tampa Bay Derby - by a narrow margin.

The late-running Mustanfar is improving, but a deep-closing style tends not to play well at Keeneland. Similarly, that is bad news for come-from-behind runners Action This Day, The Cliff's Edge, and Breakaway.

Birdstone could rebound off a poor fifth in the Lane's End, a race in which he had a troubled trip. He ran into traffic and raced on the inside over a sealed racetrack.

I will stick with a horse with no excuses in Preachinatthebar. He looks better than many of his opponents, with the exception of Lion Heart. At a better price, I will take a chance that there is a twist to the Blue Grass ending.