04/29/2003 11:00PM

Wrong filly could wind up Oaks favorite


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - There may be a false favorite in Friday's Kentucky Oaks. It's just not the filly most believe will be the favorite.

Although the track morning line has Elloluv listed as the 5-2 favorite, I believe Lady Tak will garner a slight majority of the public's support. She has quickly become the hot filly for the Kentucky Oaks for reasons that are clear. She is 2 for 2 at Churchill Downs, has lost just once in her six-race career, and now figures to sit the ideal stalking trip under jockey Jerry Bailey.

But she was beaten nearly four lengths by Elloluv in the Ashland Stakes. Some argue that was the result of Lady Tak fighting a rail bias, and Elloluv capitalizing on it.

I'm not buying it. Keeneland was noticeably biased toward inside runners during the second weekend of the meet but was fair on Ashland Day.

Of the five other dirt races contested on the Ashland card, only one was won wire to wire. Horses who stalked the pace and rallied through the stretch on the outside won the other four races.

Lady Tak lost to a superior filly that day.

Elloluv benefited from setting a slow pace in the Ashland, a luxury she will unlikely experience in a speed-laden Oaks. Additionally, her inside draw may commit her to setting or pressing that expected quick pace.

Despite those concerns, Elloluv is the filly to beat. Since her debut in October, no horse other than the retired Composure has been able to beat her. She is rock solid.

Searching for value plays on Oaks card

Regardless of whether Elloluv is the favorite, she doesn't figure to be at higher odds than 3-1 or 7-2.

I'm looking for prices in some of the supporting races. With the exception of the Louisville Breeders' Cup - which features a matchup of Take Charge Lady and You - contention runs deep throughout the card.

Such contention typically rewards value seekers. If the odds are right, I plan to take some swings with Blow a Kiss in the second, Austin's Mom in the third, Nuclear Debate in the Aegon Turf Sprint, and Ontario in the Crown Royal American Turf. They are not the most probable winners - but are likely overlays.

Bruised foot good news for Empire Maker fans

After much Derby analysis over the last few weeks, I finalized my selection upon hearing the news of Empire Maker's bruised foot.

I like Empire Maker.

I have always appreciated his talent. I just didn't appreciate his price, which some were saying would be around 6-5.

But now that the news of the foot bruise has broken, people feel they have found a chink in his armor.

Let them believe it. Perhaps people will abandon him and his odds will drift up to the point where he is no longer grossly overbet.

The foot would be a non-issue if this were not Derby week. The Derby horses are under such a microscope by the media that every small problem is blown out of proportion. That is especially true of the Derby favorite.

If the Derby were just another race, no one would even know of the foot bruise.

Whether or not you like Empire Maker, don't base your decision on news of his foot. In fact, don't base it on anything you hear this week. Most of it is nonsense.

Believe only the facts and the past performances. Believe that Bobby Frankel will not start Empire Maker unless he is ready.

History is full of horses with injuries going on to win Triple Crown events. Sunday Silence, the 1989 Derby winner, bruised his right front foot days before the Preakness, but won by a nose over Easy Goer.

Touch Gold and Risen Star also had well documented problems leading up the Belmont Stakes and they won.

Horses have aches and pains, just like other athletes. Some need Lasix and other medication to stop respiratory bleeding. Others need cortisone injections for sore joints. Still others need painkillers.

The best trainers, vets, and farriers in the game treat Derby horses. Empire Maker may lose the Derby, but it won't be because of his foot.

I'm wagering on him in the Derby, provided news of the foot causes his odds to drift up to 9-5 or 2-1. Otherwise I will try for value with stablemate Peace Rules and longshot Brancusi.