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Saturday, July 4, 2009

Celebrating the Fourth of July

Fixin’ to enjoy the holiday with hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill, some cold brews and a full slate of stakes action from coast-to-coast. What more could a horse racing fan want (besides a Zenyatta vs. Rachel Alexandra showdown)?

At Belmont, the safe thing to do would be to go with the “Medaglia D’oro Daily Double”—Warrior’s Reward in the G2 Dwyer, and Gabby’s Golden Gal in the G1 Prioress. Instead, I’m thinking “Jerkens Exacta” in the Dwyer, with daddy Allen’s Masala over son Jimmy’s Convocation.

All the Dwyer hype has been about Calvin Borel riding Warrior’s Reward, but I’m just not sold on him. Likewise, Just Ben’s 2-1 morning line surprises me, since his dam Chip was a multi-graded stakes winning sprinter, as was his sire Speightstown—8.5f just may be well out of his reach, unless Rajiv Maragh gets him loose on the lead. Ramon Dominguez is the only positive thing about longshot Sunday Sunrise, and I’ll be surprised if Kensei can handle the stretch out in distance. American Dance’s best efforts have been when on or near the lead, but with much slower fractions than Just Ben should deal out. Instead, Masala and Convocation should both get plenty to run at. Masala’s poor turf effort two back in the Lamplighter is a complete toss-out for me, as his workouts and race since transferring from Todd Pletcher to Jerkens signal to me he’s been much better placed on dirt. (Incidentally, his dam Countess Marq is a half-sister to Diamonds and Legs, dam of the wonderful sprinting mare Wild Gams, runner-up in the 2006 Prioress.) Convocation is entered here off a maiden win, which is pretty ambitious for Jimmy Jerkens, but his last race (nearly one month ago) was very impressive—Convocation (Pulpit) is closely related to 2001 G1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Filly champion Tempera (A.P. Indy), as their dams are half-sisters.

In the Prioress, Gabby’s Golden Gal is the only G1 winner in the field, and has two bullet works leading to this. However, that was such a big effort, now she’s cutting back to 6f, and she won’t enjoy slow early fractions, particularly with Light Green and Heart Ashley in the field. Though her breeding indicates she should like more distance, Light Green has never raced beyond 6f—and never finished out of the money, including twice over this track. I give her a slight edge over Heart Ashley, both dirt speedballs. The shocker might be Larry Jones-trained On The Menu who has reeled off five consecutive blistering bullet works; she didn’t handle the off-track in last September’s G2 Matron, but she’s also grown up since then.

In the G2 Suburban, you can’t knock Asiatic Boy’s form, particularly gaining on Macho Again in the G1 Stephen Foster, and ahead of the unlucky Einstein. He should get plenty to run at with Finallymadeit on the rail—that one has put in two nice works at Belmont since the Stephen Foster, and could be dangerous here, if he doesn’t falter again. Interesting that Julien Leparoux chose not to come in and ride favorite It’s A Bird. Cool Coal Man could definitely get a piece of the exotics, but for a longshot I keep coming back to Real Merchant, if only because Rajiv Maragh rode him well two back.

In the G3 Salvator Mile at Monmouth, I love everything about Smooth Air—always have—but I wouldn’t be surprised if Coal Play pulled an upset, especially with Joe Bravo up. Two Step Salsa didn’t have an easy placement in his last race, finishing behind Fabulous Strike, Benny the Bull and Silver Edition. That form alone merits respect, as does seeing Garrett Gomez come in to ride.

With 10-year-old Better Talk Now withdrawn, that leaves 8-year-old Brass Hat as the resident geezer in the G1 United Nations, and wouldn’t it be something to see him win! However, last year’s winner Presious Passion has been in tremendous form this year, and Monmouth is his personal playground. Court Vision has run in nothing but G1 events since winning the G1 Hollywood Derby on turf last November; however, he also hasn’t won vs. older horses in four subsequent attempts. Therefore, if anyone catches Presious Passion, I’m betting it's Banrock (with his Foolish Pleasure second dam).

At Churchill, Thorn Song looks to repeat in the G2 Firecracker, coming in off that impressive victory in the G1 Shoemaker Mile, but I’m willing to take a moderate stand against him. While G1 Makers Mark Mile winner Mr. Sidney looks likely on paper, I’m much more interested in Passager and Wise River, the latter who is particularly fond of Churchill turf.

I'll probaby be Twittering while handicapping other races, so tune in for any changes of heart.

Happy Birthday, America!