06/06/2008 9:33PM

Finally a Triple?

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Let's take a look at some of Saturday's stakes races:

True North:
Won't bet much into this race as Benny the Bull towers over the field on paper, and will go off the deserving heavy favorite.  Maybe the trip to and from Dubai took something out of him, but he's been so impressive in his last three starts, and should work out a nice trip behind the speeds.  Abraaj worked out a nice rail-skimming trip en route to the 107 Beyer in the mud last month.  That was his first start of the year, and it wouldn't surprise me if he moves forward off the race.  Kiaran McLaughlin and Alan Garcia are tearing it up in Grade 1 races, and their charge is learning how to relax a little in the early going.  Man of Danger is probably not of this quality, but he's quick from the gate, and may try to take these all the way.  Thor's Echo, the 2006 Breeders' Cup Sprint winner, returns from Dubai after a pair of subpar efforts.  He's had some physical problems, and has been away a long, long time, but has good early speed when right.
Selections:  Benny the Bull, Abraaj, Man of Danger

Just a Game:
Good race!  Although Bayou's Lassie may have been aided by a speed-favoring turf course on Kentucky Derby day, she looms the main speed of the Just a Game, and perhaps her sharp form can carry her on the front end at a good price.  I'll use her and Vacare, a Clement-trained layoff runner returning from some physical issues.  Sounds just like Gio Ponti to me.  Criminologist has improved drastically with maturity, and she was a strong winner of the Beaugay over next-out winner All Is Vanity.  It's hard to ignore her form - she hasn't been out of the exacta in 365 days.  Lady of Venice is a multiple Graded stakes winner, but I've never been a big fan of hers.  She retains Prado, and should save valuable ground from the rail.  Bit of Whimsy looked very good against three-year-old fillies in 2007, and may have been a bit short in her first start against older stakes rivals in the Jenny Wiley at Keeneland.  Ventura is a fascinating sleeper for Juddmonte, Frankel, and Gomez.  She was a visually impressive winner over polytrack in the Madison on April 8, then failed to make up ground over that speed-favoring Churchill turf course.  Don't ignore her at a price. Sharp Susan has some quality, but she has a tendency to get rank in the early going.
Selections:  Bayou's Lassie, Vacare

Acorn:
Indian Blessing is a wonderful filly, and she should relish turning back to this one-turn mile.  She won the Frizette over this course and trip last year on the engine, and while her connections are talking about rating her in this spot, she may be pot-committed by her inside post.  She's the quickest if she's allowed to go to the lead, and obviously should be used in multi-race wagers.  I'll go with Zaftig to pull off the mild upset, though.  She looked in big trouble on the turn of the Grade 3 Nassau County when under a full-out drive, but soon righted herself, and won off by five and change.  If Indian Blessing and Dance Gal Dance spar early, then Zaftig, Game Face, and Golden Doc A may hold an advantage.  Game Face enjoyed a perfect rail run to win the La Troienne, but her win in the Old Hat three back at Gulfstream was super impressive.  Golden Doc A ran Indian Blessing to a photo finish earlier this year, but she has some problems with her lead changes.
Selections:  Zaftig, Indian Blessing, Game Face

Woody Stephens:
Ready's Image
received a nice prep when winning the Adjudicating Stakes in his first start off the Disabled List, and he could certainly move forward off that race.  I'll go with J Be K instead, however.  The Zayat colt should appreciate turning back in distance, and he may get the jump on the closers after pouncing on True Quality on the turn.  I'm not sure J Be K is as good as his past performances indicate, but he may hold a slight tactical edge.  Groomedforvictory won a key race maiden with authority two back, then overcame some trouble to beat New York-bred stakes foes last time out.  He may sit a good stalking trip from just off of the leaders.  Fatal Bullet couldn't have received a better trip when winning a second-level allowance over Woodbine's polytrack on May 23.  He stalked dueling pacesetters while by his lonesome, and just blew by in the lane.  Silver Edition earned a 100 Beyer when second to the decent Lantana Mob in the Hirsch Jacobs.  He seems to be back in form, and doesn't have to be too far off the leaders.  Majestic Warrior, the Hopeful winner of 2007, just hasn't seemed like the same horse since returning from an injury earlier this year.
Selections:  J Be K, Groomedforvictory, Fatal Bullet

Manhattan:
This will be my make or break race as I love Strike a Deal at a price.  He held his own last year against some of the better three-year-old turf runners (Summer Doldrums, Red Giant, Soldier's Dancer, Nobiz Like Shobiz), and his return race on May 11 looks like an excellent prep.  He faced pace pressure early, had to quicken up in the third quarter, and still held gamely when confronted by the hedge-skimming winner in the stretch.  His good tactical speed should have him situated just off rabbit Shake the Bank, and he may get first run on the late kickers.  Shakis was beaten a head last year by Better Talk Now, but both have since gone off form.  Better Talk Now may have been hurt by slow-paced races lately, and should appreciate his buddy setting quicker splits.  Pays to Dream was tremendous winning the Dixie on Preakness Day.  He began to gear up from the hedge on the turn, was stopped, then simply started up again, and won by seven plus.  He was goofing around in the stretch that day, though, and these tougher rivals may not allow him to get away with similar shenanigans here.  Proudinsky, like Big Brown, is recovering from a quarter crack.  He was a bit eager in the early going of the Mervin Muniz at Fair Grounds, but then ran very well to overcome a wide trip and a sharp Daytona.  Out of Control has quality, and he gave Einstein a challenge in the Turf Classic at Churchill.  I didn't like how he was weaving in the stretch, but that course wasn't playing to Out of Control's strengths.  Stalingrad is sharp, but takes a huge step up.  Dancing Forever has been good to me in his last two races.  He's another Shug runner that's gotten better with age.  Stream of Gold has burned his share of money lately, and is marooned outside.
Selections:  Strike a Deal, Pays to Dream, Better Talk Now

Belmont Stakes:
I'm rooting for Big Brown to take this down as he would make a thoroughly deserving Triple Crown winner, but I just can't take 2-5 on him considering the quarter crack and marathon distance.  Casino Drive is no bargain either at 7-2 with his stone bruise, but he's been pointed for this race all along, and he'll probably shadow Big Brown most of the way.  If he's good enough, he'll make a run at the Derby winner on the turn, and well, we'll see what happens.  If Casino Drive scratches, I'll give Denis of Cork a strong chance. He didn't break well in the Derby, and was taken immediately to the rail.  While he did save ground all the way around the track, he had to pass 19 others, and simply wasn't up to that task.  With a better setup, he could improve on his third-place Derby finish, and he was very impressive in his first three lifetime starts.  Macho Again clunked up to finish second in the Preakness behind Macho Again, and it wouldn't surprise me if he gets a piece with a similar late move.  Tale of Ekati supposedly displaced his palate following his slow workout the other day, and his slow Wood Memorial doesn't excite me.
Selection:  Casino Drive (if he scratches, then Denis of Cork)

Whittingham:  Will try to beat Champs Elysees and Lava Man with an equal dose of Molengao and Artiste Royale.

More importantly, who do you like this weekend?  I'd like to know.

Enjoy the day's racing.

Dan