10/16/2010 10:51AM

Canadian International Day!


Fans of turf racing will certainly get their fill this afternoon as Woodbine hosts three Grade 1 races on the lawn.  Not to be outdone here in the good ol' U S of A, Keeneland's Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, Oak Tree's Oak Tree Derby, and Belmont's Athenia Stakes complete the green bonanza. 

I'm going to take stabs with price horses in most of today's races. 

Queen Elizabeth II Stakes - Keeneland - Race 9:

You can't ask for much more in this competitive running of the QE II.  Europe is well represented by ZAGORA, a multiple Group 3 winner that was fifth in the French Oaks.  EVENING JEWEL has had a wonderful campaign, winning Grade 1 races on turf and synthetic, and missing by a dirty nose in the Kentucky Oaks on dirt.  CHECK THE LABEL has won four graded stakes races in a row while HARMONIOUS and PERFECT SHIRL have shown flashes throughout their short, but promising careers. 
There appears to be some speed in this race with DADE BABE, the gate-to-wire winner of the Grade 3 Pucker Up likely to set the pace with Evening Jewel not too far behind.  Perhaps things will set up for a closer, and I'll take my chances with SNOW TOP MOUNTAIN, a filly that hasn't been out of the exacta in eight career starts.  Considering the speed-favoring nature of the Saratoga turf courses, Snow Top Mountain ran pretty well at the Spa, finishing second in a listed stakes after being a dozen lengths off the lead down the backstretch.  She failed to catch Awesome Maria in the slower division of the Riskaverse Stakes on September 2, but Awesome Maria got the jump on her that afternoon. 
Last time out, in the Grade 1 Garden City at Belmont, Snow Top Mountain again found one better.  That was Check the Label, who simply outfinished Snow Top Mountain as both rallied from the tail end of the field.  I thought that Edgar Prado had an opportunity to lock Check the Label in on the far turn, but he opted to make the last run, and it fell short.  According to the "Keeneland Clocker Report" for October 5, Snow Top Mountain "went easily," so it looks like she's retaining her solid form.  She may not be good enough in a tough, tough race, but is worth a play if close to her 12-1 morning line. 
Selections:  Snow Top Mountain, Zagora, Harmonious

Nearctic Stakes - Woodbine - Race 8:

I'm a speed guy and I think that FATAL BULLET is the quickest from the gate in the six-furlong Nearctic.  Now, I realize that the Fatal Bullet of 2010 is not the one that ran a gutsy second in the 2008 Breeders' Cup Sprint.  He may not even be the Fatal Bullet that won the Phoenix last fall.  Knee injuries and issues with the heat have slowed down his train somewhat.  But, he still has his early speed and the most recent race over the Woodbine turf makes me think that he's in pretty good form.  That race was the Grade 2 Play the King at seven furlongs and it looked like Fatal Bullet would get away easy on the lead.  He went the first quarter in 23.02, child's play for such an accomplished sprinter.  His opposition soon turned up the heat, however, and Fatal Bullet ended up dueling through a middle half-mile in 45.36.  Fatal Bullet only finished third, but he hung tough in the stretch, and should appreciate turning back a furlong this afternoon. 
The Europeans should be respected, as always, but I'm not sure if BALTHAZAAR'S GIFT and SERIOUS ATTITUDE represent the creme de la creme of foreign sprinters.  The former just pulled off at 16-1 upset in the Group 2 Park Stakes, but is 0-12 in Group 1 races.  Serious Attitude did win the Group 1 Cheveley Park Stakes at two, but is only 1 for 8 since then, and is a filly tackling males once again. 
BRIDGETOWN may end up favored, but he's a three-year-old facing elders for the first time.
Selections:  Fatal Bullet, Balthazaar's Gift, Serious Attitude

Oak Tree Derby - Oak Tree at Hollywood - Race 8:

Not sure if there's a great deal of quality in this race.  There certainly is a lack of early speed.  The morning line favorite, MAKE MUSIC FOR ME, is the kind of horse that I'll let beat me at underlaid odds.  He hasn't been out since the Belmont Stakes, is returning from an injury-induced layoff, and will attempt to rally into soft splits. 
The European invader, BLUE PANIS, does have some tactical speed, and that may be a major advantage in the Oak Tree Derby.  Still, how good is he really?  He's won two listed races in France, but failed to make his mark at the group level. 
This race seems to be crying out for a price, and I'll put my eggs in HAIMISH HY'S basket.  A perfect 2-2 on grass, Haimish Hy returned from  a February layoff to upset the El Cajon at one mile on polytrack at Del Mar.  He received a nice setup that day, tripping out behind a good pace, but he came home his final quarter in a solid 24 2/5.  As a lightly-raced three-year-old coming off a Beyer top, he may have another move forward in him.  He's 12-1 on the morning line, and is playable at 8- or even 6-1.
Selections:  Haimish Hy, Blue Panis, Make Music for Me

E. P.  Taylor - Woodbine - Race 9:

The two main European invaders, SHALANAYA and CONTREDANSE, loom the horses to beat.  Shalanaya won the Group 1 Prix de l'Opera last fall over the good mare Midday, and has been tackling tough older males in her last two starts.  CONTREDANSE is a three-year-old filly with upside potential, and she'll add Lasix for the always-dangerous Luca Cumani barn. 
Still, MISS KELLER has really impressed me in her last few races, and I'll take her to send the Euros packing with her usual strong late flourish.  She's a tricky filly to ride - Javier Castellano has learned that you can't really hit her - but she also kicks like a mule in the stretch, and she's proven over this expansive turf course.  In her Taylor prep, the Grade 2 Canadian, Miss Keller split horses in upper stretch en route to a triple-digit Beyer score.  The only runner to return from the Canadian, last-place finisher Jenny's So Great, came back to win the restricted Carotene Stakes with an 86 Beyer.  Miss Keller has won at 10 1/2 furlongs on turf in her native Ireland so the increase in distance shouldn't be a problem. 
Selections:  Miss Keller, Shalanaya, Contredanse

I scratched out of the Athenia and will have to rework things on a soft turf course at Belmont.  Also, I don't think that the Canadian International is a great singular betting race.  For Guaranteed Pick 4 purposes, I'll use JOSHUA TREE, CHINCHON, and FIFTY PROOF.

More importantly, who do you like this afternoon.  I want to know.

Enjoy the weekend!