Zeroing in on the pick of the exchange-traded fund industry's litter is no easy task. These puppies -- just sticking with the metaphor there, folks -- keep on proliferating. All too many of 'em are mangy mutts, alas, narrowly targeted investment "products" designed primarily (the crusty cynic in me suspects) to take advantage of ETF fever.

Have you caught it?
Still, even after filtering out those ETFs that target the vintage Elmo market and the Martian cattle futures markets (no, they don't really exist -- yet), you're still left with a plethora of worthies. For my money, though, the iShares Russell 1000 Growth (AMEX:IWF) is the ETF to beat right now. It's cheap, it runs with an expansive portfolio, and gosh darn it, people don't like it.

Trust me, though. That's a good thing.

Indeed, this ETF's area of the market -- large-cap growth stocks -- has been out of favor for what seems like an eternity. And while the big boys have, in the aggregate, been on the comeback trail of late, those of the growth persuasion are still bringing up the rear as a group. Not coincidentally, over the past 12 months, the iShares Russell 1000 Growth has delivered a lackluster return of roughly 9%, lagging the S&P 500 by almost 6%.

Here's where it gets good
Contrarian that I am, for me, that underperformance just bolsters the case for this ETF. The top end of the portfolio is anchored by the likes of IBM (NYSE:IBM), PepsiCo (NYSE:PEP), and Amgen (NASDAQ:AMGN), while Oracle (NASDAQ:ORCL), UnitedHealth (NYSE:UNH), and Qualcomm show up just a bit further down the list of holdings.

And at the end of October, Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) was the ETF's top holding, giving this vehicle a high-quality tech cherry on top and raising this question: When you can gain access to these kinds of bright-future companies in the context of a well-diversified portfolio for the low, low price of just 0.20% -- the fund's expense ratio -- why go anywhere else?

The Foolish bottom line
To be sure, investors here will want to round out their exposure to the market through value-oriented and/or smaller-cap fare, too. What's more, it's well worth remembering that with any index fund, the most you can realistically expect is to lag the benchmark each year by about the amount of your fund's price tag.

With that in mind, if you want to beat the market with funds, I encourage you to check out the Fool's Champion Funds investing service, which is dedicated to that cause. If you're looking to make a passively managed (and contrarian) play on large-cap growth stocks, on the other hand, consider the investment case outlined above -- and think about adding this ETF to your CAPS list of prospective outperformers.

If you don't have a list yet, or you don't know what CAPS is, not to worry: This new and exceedingly Foolish service taps the collective intelligence of our community, harnessing a membership of some 13,000 investors who rate stocks as under- or overachievers. And setting up a list is simple and fun -- not to mention a great way to test-drive investment ideas.

Click here to give CAPS a go -- for free -- and as you get going, bear this in mind: After a season of decent but underwhelming gains, iShares Russell 1000 Growth looks poised to shine.

Go here for the complete list of ETF contenders in our CAPS tournament.

Shannon Zimmerman runs point on the Fool's Champion Funds newsletter service and owns shares of Pepsico. The iShares Russell 1000 Growth ETF was a Stocks 2005 pick. UnitedHealth and Microsoft are Motley Fool Inside Value picks. UnitedHealth is also a Stock Advisor selection. You can check out the Fool's strict disclosure policy by clicking right here.