06/08/2006 12:00AM

Wise guys like Bob and John


With no Triple Crown on the line and not even the winner of the Kentucky Derby or Preakness in Saturday's Belmont Stakes, race book crowds will be more along the lines of a Travers Day or Big Cap Day than for one of the classics.

There are no big parties or giveaways planned. In fact, the only special promotion that has crossed my desk is the twin quinella at the Leroy's books, which has a jackpot of $6,501 after not being hit in the first two legs of the Triple Crown.

So, with such a wide-open race, I thought it would be interesting to poll a bunch of public handicappers from around town. Sports coverage far outweighs horse racing in the local newspapers and radio airwaves, but the sport of kings has its niche audience.

In alphabetical order, here are their selections.

Brian Blessing, radio host of "LVSC's Just for Openers": Jazil.

"I liked him in the Derby. [Fernando] Jara saved ground and he was able to close to finish in a dead heat for fourth. The longer distance should suit him. [Kiaran] McLaughlin said he wants Jazil to be closer to the pace so it should be really interesting down the stretch."

Howard Chinchuck, who sells selections on vegasinsider.com and might be better-known to DRF readers as Howard the Cabbie, featured in columns by Steven Crist: Sunriver.

"I like him off his Peter Pan, when he stayed closer to the pace. Against this weak field, he looks like the winner. I don't like Bluegrass Cat; the Derby just fell apart and someone had to finish second. Bob and John should be the controlling speed, but the way he came home in 39 in the Wood, I think he'll probably be third or fourth."

Bobby Gilbert, an oddsmaker for WSEX.com: Bluegrass Cat.

"He could have been the Derby favorite if not for the Blue Grass, but it looks like they got him straightened out and he was second-best to Barbaro. He's 2-0 at Belmont and has the tactical speed you need in this race, plus [John] Velazquez is back."

Richard Eng, Las Vegas Review-Journal: Bob and John.

"He got eliminated early with a rough trip in the Derby. Garrett Gomez wrapped up on him, so his 17th-place finish, beaten 31 lengths, does not bother me. He has trained brilliantly for Bob Baffert. I'm surprised he is the fourth choice on the morning line. He is the only Grade 1 winner in the field and that victory, in the Wood Memorial, came in New York."

Rick Herron, co-host of the radio show "Raceday Extra": High Finance.

"In what appears to be a wide-open race, I'm going with a lightly raced colt. He is bred to go the distance and was very impressive in his last start the week of the Derby. He broke through the gate that day and still won easily with a huge Beyer. Big upside."

Jerry Jacovitz, creator of the handicapping sheet called "Jerry J's Power Page": Bluegrass Cat.

"I liked Bluegrass Cat going into the Derby. I thought he peaked a little early in Tampa and has just the right time and spacing in his races to be fully recovered. I expect him to run to his maximum in the Belmont. Skipping the Preakness is another positive; he should be sitting on ready and looks like a colt that will finish strong."

Gordon Jones, handicapper on the radio show "Track Talk": Bob and John.

"This is the lowest-rated group of Triple Crown survivors in years. I have Bob and John four to five lengths better than the rest of the field and two or three races that can beat the rest of the field."

Patrick McQuiggan, handicapper on "Track Talk": Bob and John.

"I had him on top in the Kentucky Derby and I'm coming back with him again. He's the biggest trouble horse left from the Kentucky Derby who didn't get to run his race. Wet or dry, I'll take him."

Richard Saber, Gaming Today: Bob and John.

"The main reason is I like the way he's working out. [Bob] Baffert always says this is the perfect distance for him. In the Derby, he just had a horrible trip. An interesting piece of trivia: The last time there was no Derby or Preakness winner in the Belmont, Commendable won. He was 17th in the Derby, just like Bob and John."

Dave Scandaliato, radio host of "SportsLine": High Finance.

"He comes into the race with the highest last race and overall Beyer Speed Figure. High Finance ran second to Preakness winner Bernadini just over three months ago and looks to be getting better each time on the track, winning his last two starts. In a race that lacks early speed it would not surprise me to see High Finance go gate to wire."

Ralph Siraco, radio host of "Raceday Las Vegas" and "Raceday Extra": High Finance.

"I was duly impressed with High Finance's allowance victory on Derby week at Belmont. He defied and conquered the ultimate racing 'kiss of death' by breaking through the starting gate before the start of the race, then disposed of a nice field in the process. Although I don't subscribe to making this kind of leap to a 1 1/2-mile Grade 1, this field suggests High Finance may be able to pull it off."

Tony Vega, handicapper on the radio show "Track Talk": Deputy Glitters.

"He beat the favorite [Bluegrass Cat] on the square when they met the second of two times at Tampa Bay Downs. He was 11 wide at Churchill, and everyone always talks about Brother Derek being wide, but Deputy Glitters was even wider. He should run big, especially if it's a dry track."

And here's my two cents . . .

Truth be told, when I decided to conduct this poll, I was secretly hoping that all but one horse would be picked, just like in the movie "Let It Ride," and I could joke about crossing out everyone else's selections. But my top pick is Bob John, who was picked by four of the 12 selectors, which makes me fear he could go off at less than his 5-1 morning-line odds.

I will use him with three new shooters: High Finance (the second choice in our Vegas poll with three selectors), Sunriver, and Double Galore. Without having a "super" horse that eats up a lot of the win pool, there might not be many overlays in the field.

Double Galore could be the X-factor as far as not knowing how good he could be and might be worth a flyer at 30-1 or higher.