To nonhorseplayers, this may sound like a contradiction, but it isn't: Sunny's Halo is a sharp, fit, talented colt, a legitimate favorite to win the Preakness, but he is a favorite worth betting against.

In the long run, I expect to make money betting against horses who are 4 to 5 on the basis of a race in which they were blessed by the most favorable conditions and won in unimpressive time. That is the way Sunny's Halo won the Kentucky Derby.

Because of the slow pace at Churchill Downs, Sunny's Halo and Desert Wine were able to run one-two most of the way, and the stretch-runners in the field had little chance to overtake them.

Under the circumstances, I was most impressed by the performance of Marfa, who made his usual strong rally on the turn--covering the fourth quarter mile in less than 24 seconds--but couldn't catch the horses in front of him because they were so strong. Until a few days ago, I planned to advise readers that he was a three-star mortal lock, a bet-the-mortgage proposition.

But when Marfa suffered a quarter crack Wednesday, my mortgage money stayed in the bank. There are too many uncertainties about a horse whose hoof is being held together with piano wire, and who must race without the Butazolidin he has been using his entire career.

With the likelihood of a hot early pace, the Preakness may be set up for a horse like Marfa, who can accelerate on the turn as the leaders begin to weaken. But since I don't think I will have the heart to bet on Marfa in his current condition, I may take a flyer with Play Fellow, who has the same type of running style and would benefit from a wet track.

I apologize for the uncharacteristically tepid nature of this opinion, but because of the ambiguity about Marfa's fitness, it may be prudent to be tepid Saturday.