02/03/2009 1:09AM

3 Down, 112 to Go


T he first three Grade 1 races of 2009 were run last weekend and each was won by a Breeders' Cup winner: Albertus Maximus (2008 Dirt Mile) won the Donn, Ventura (2008 F&M Sprint) took the Santa Monica and Kip Deville (2007 Mile) prevailed in the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap. All three of them also received Eclipse Award votes last year: Ventura got 88 votes finishing second to Indian Blessing for champion female sprinter; Kip Deville got five votes for champion male turf horse; and Albertus Maximus got one of the three votes cast against Curlin for champion older male.

The Donn made Albertus Maximus ($8.20) an official Grade 1 winner; the Dirt Mile was ungraded last year, as was the F&M Sprint, but both will be Grade 1's this year. Albertus Maximus is obviously a nice horse,and it was nice to see him replicate his synthetic-track form on dirt, but it's still unclear that he's up to the level of what it usually takes to vie for leadership of the American handicap division. The Dirt Mile field he beat was a distinct cut below the Classic lineup (and earned a Beyer of 102 as opposed to a 110 for the Classic.) The Donn earned a Beyer of only 101. In the Holy Bull on the Donn undercard, Saratoga Sinner ran only half a second slower than Albertus Maximus (1:51.45 vs. 1:50.96), a smaller difference than you'd expect between a G3 for newly-turned 3-year-olds and a G1 for older. 

Ventura wasn't cranked up for a peak effort and didn't have to be to beat stablemate Jibboom and four other overmatched opponents in the Santa Monica. She won by a comfortable length at 3-10, and figures to be odds-on in her next start, the newly-G1 Madison at Keeneland April 9, the second of the year's three G1 synthetic-track sprint for older fillies. (The third is the F&M Sprint at Santa Anita.) It will be interesting to see if she tries actual dirt between April and November, and whether she can win a female-sprinter Eclipse if she doesn't.

Kip Deville ($7.00), faced the most accomplished field of the weekend's three Grade 1's, including G1 winners Court Vision (3rd at 2-1) and Red Rocks (8th at 3-1). The question with Kip DeVille was the nine-furlong distance: Coming into the race, his grass record was 8-for-14 at a mile and 0-for-5 at more than a mile. Pressed only mildly early by longshot Pick Six, Kip Deville held on through the ninth furlong to score by three-quarters of a length over 24-1 Just As Well, who carried 11 fewer pounds.

Only two more Grade 1 races this month: the Las Virgenes for 3-year-old fillies at SA Feb. 7 and the Santa Maria for older fillies Feb. 14.

--Here's how those two big Saturday multirace wagers turned out:

Both sequences paid nicely, roughly double the parlay. I passed on the Magna 5 because of the two firster-heavy Santa Anita maiden races in the sequence, and instead got involved at Gulfstream. Although I did use Warrior's Reward ($63) as one of five in an anti-Nicanor (10th at 5-2) play, it was academic by then because I hadn't used Saratoga Sinner in the Holy Bull.