Saturday picks

A few hours earlier, cavernous Belmont Park was filled with people, noise and dreams. Now it was dark, with the remains of the day scattered everywhere. Amid the bottles, cups and programs littering the ground floor were thousands of worthless tickets. If only the horses had cooperated, they would have been worth millions.

The numbers of the six losing Breeders' Cup favorites were printed on them everywhere. But faith in First Samurai, Lost in the Fog, Leroidesanimaux, Ouija Board, Ashado and Azamour was misplaced and costly. Thoroughbreds that looked so good on paper led only to throwing it away.

On a day when nobody picked six, picking two was an achievement. For the first six Cup races, I did nothing but mutter to myself and fill a large trash can in the packed press box. Then my best bet, Shirocco, came through at $19.60 in the Turf, and my Saint Liam-Flower Alley exacta hit for $62, and I wasn't depressed anymore. I was in the red for the day, but it was only a flesh wound. Not so for many of my colleagues. If I'd booked all the action from the media, I could have made almost as much as Saint Liam.

For a serious player, not much feels worse than going 0-for-8 on championship day, my wretched fate two years ago at Santa Anita. It's as if you crammed for two weeks and got an 'F' on the final exam. Although money made on a maiden claimer at Yavapai Downs spends just as well as a score from the Classic, it's nothing to savor or recall.

In the wee hours after the 22nd Cup, the clocks went back an hour, a grim reminder that winter isn't far off. Aqueduct's inner track and Turfway Park rarely interest me, and without a usable grass course, Hollywood Park's upcoming meet has been gutted. Still, we have strong meetings going on now at The Big A and Churchill Downs, which is where I'll turn this week. Although almost all of the important races are over, the game, as always, goes on.

2nd race, Aqueduct, maiden special, (1 1/16 miles, turf)
Bill Mott sends out the 2-year-old colt Fen for his turf debut with possibilities abounding. It's the layoff Mott off a seven-week rest with a strong grass pedigree (by Boundary); he also picks up John Velazquez, meets a weak field and gets post 2 on The Big A's tight course. Off two poor efforts on dirt, he might even offer decent odds. He's been working steadily for six weeks and interests me a great deal. His main dangers appear to be Tour de Force, Al Mukhtar, True to Tradition and Rectory Hill, if he escapes the also-eligible list.

1. Fen. 2. Al Mukhtar. 3. Tour de Force.

8th race, Churchill Downs, Grade III Pocahontas Stakes (mile)
In a one-turn mile with a lot of speed, I'll take another Mott, the 2-year-old filly Performing Diva. She was a no-chance third in the Grade II Alcibiades at Keeneland, racing evenly throughout behind a very slow pace. She'll offer a solid price and should be able to work out a good trip from post 2 behind what figures to be a quick pace. Wild Tonight finished strongly to break her maiden two months back in a one-turn mile at Arlington, and her closing style should be a plus. Likely favorites Trippi Street and French Park each won her career debut by daylight in a sprint. They'll be overbet, and although either could be a freak, I always like to go against such types going long in their second lifetime race.

1. Performing Diva. 2. Wild Tonight. 3. French Park.

10th race, Churchill Downs, Grade III Iroquois Stakes (mile)
Flanders Fields has royal blood, a product of the mating of champions, 1992 Horse of the Year A.P. Indy and 1994 Juvenile Fillies winner Flanders. He ran to his pedigree while breaking his maiden by 6? lengths in a one-turn mile at Belmont Park in his second start Sept. 10. He's been training impressively at Churchill, and he's versatile enough to close or be on the pace. High Cotton ran poorly in the Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland, whose form usually doesn't translate well elsewhere, especially to Churchill. Don't be surprised if this Todd Pletcher colt rebounds. Laity, the Breeders' Futurity beaten favorite, may have been another that didn't care for Keeneland's surface. He could be a major factor at overlaid odds.

1. Flanders Fields. 2. High Cotton. 3. Laity.