08/22/2008 9:18PM

HammerToes, Weekend Stakes thoughts

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I dropped the hammer on my toe today.  To me, the Grade 1 Personal Ensign at Saratoga was a prime betting opportunity.  While I have the greatest respect for Ginger Punch, she was going to take the lion's share of the wagering, and couldn't be played outside of multi-race bets.  I've always been an Unbridled Belle fan, but I wonder if she wants to do this anymore.  I couldn't get the image of her spooking and flipping in the paddock prior to the Delaware Handicap out of my mind.  At a short price, I couldn't play her.  But I could play Lemon Drop Mom, who courageously held on for second behind Hystericalady in the Delaware Handicap, and galloped out beautifully after that race.  I made her 6-1 on my personal line for the Personal Ensign, and was delighted when she went off at 10-1...delighted until they posted the photo.  Once again, two ladies showed us what our sport is all about at the Old Spa.  Lemon Drop Mom, on the rail, battled down the length of the stretch with the defending Distaff Champion, Ginger Punch.  When it mattered most, in the shadow of the wire, Ginger Punch got her nose down first...and I felt like she picked my pocket. 

Oh well.  Tomorrow's the centerpiece of the Saratoga meet...Travers Day!

Let's take a look at the races that comprise the $1 Million Guaranteed Pick 4:

Victory Ride:
Undefeated Indyanne will likely be the single on more than a handful of tickets, but while I eventually settled on her as my top choice, I'm not so sure she's the lock she appears on paper.  Yes, she was impressive at Calder, earning a 108 Beyer in the Grade 3 Azalea, but Indyanne has done a lot of traveling in a short amount of time.  She's based in Northern California, shipped to South Florida for the Azalea, flew back to Northern California, and now has crossed the country again for the Victory Ride.  Plus, she'll be facing some pretty quick and classy rivals at the Spa.  She's obviously the filly to beat, but you may want to hedge somewhat with Informed Decision, Sly Storm, and Porte Bonheur.  Informed Decision earned a triple-digit Beyer over the polytrack at Keeneland, but she may have been aided by a closer's bias that day, and must prove she is as fast over the dirt.  The expected fast pace should play into her stalking style.  Sly Storm is finally beginning to run to her pedigree.  A daughter of Storm Cat, she's won two straight against weaker competition, and has enough gas to press Indyanne and company early.  I think she has lots of upside potential.  Porte Bonheur is a late-runner with a puncher's chance.  It must be stated, however, that she enjoyed a perfect rail-skimming trip in her recent restricted stakes win at Saratoga.  Palanka City was the pacesetter in the Test, and may have to run-and-gun from the rail.  We'll be rooting for Team Zayat's entry of Throbbin' Heart and J Z Warrior.  The former was no match for Sly Storm at Monmouth while J Z Warrior pressed and faded in the Test.  Both have excellent early speed.
Selections:  Indyanne, Informed Decision, Sly Storm, Porte Bonheur

Bernard Baruch:
The Bernard Baruch is usually a competitive race, and this year's renewal is no exception.  I like Thorn Song, a Team Zayat runner that may have been taken out of his game by the front-running exploits of Inca King in the recent Fourstardave Handicap.  Thorn Song, as evidenced by his gate-to-wire score over Einstein two back at Churchill, is at his best when allowed to control the pace.  Breaking from post two, and facing a field without much early zip, Thorn Song may be allowed to dictate his own terms under Julien Leparoux.  While beaten in the Fourstardave, Thorn Song did show guts to turn back Distorted Reality's late charge for third in the stretch, and seems to be in good form.  Drum Major is an interesting handicapping dilemma.  He looked like he was finally reaching full maturity when third in last year's Baruch, but hasn't been seen since that start.  Trainer George Weaver is having a wonderful meet, and he is showing an immense amount of confidence in placing Drum Major here without a prep.  He draws inside, and can best utilize his tactical speed by working out a pace-tracking, ground-saving trip.  Will the real War Monger please stand up?  I'd prefer to see the one that wowed us in the Rutgers and Sunshine Millions Turf instead of the phony that stunk up the joint in the Kilroe, Makers Mark Mile, and Fourstardave.  On his best day, he can be a player, and it's possible that all he's been waiting for is a return to firm turf.  Operation Red Dawn is a live sleeper.  I loved how he exploded after he altered course late in the 'n3x' optional claiming win two back, and he wasn't disgraced when beaten less than five lengths by Kip Deville in the Poker, a race devoid of pace.  The plethora of layoff lines that dot Proudinsky's page are disconcering, and he can be his own worst enemy when rank at the start  Distorted Reality took the measure of Grand Couterier two back, and that one is now a two-time winner of the Sword Dancer.  Shakis has yet to return to the form that propelled him to the perfect trip win in last year's Baruch.
Selections:  Thorn Song, Drum Major, War Monger, Operation Red Dawn

Kings Bishop:
J Be K certainly looms the horse to beat based on his last two triple-digit Beyer wins.  He's never lost a sprint race, and draws a comfortable outside post.  He should be breathing down the neck of the pacesetter(s) entering the turn.  Since he probably won't offer much value, I'll head to Desert Key, the impressive runner-up in the Amsterdam on July 28.  Desert Key put away the other speed after a wicked first quarter, opened up on the turn, and dug in gamely for the entire stretch run to only lose by a head.  He'll have to really motor from the rail, and a prolonged hounding from J Be K may be in the cards, but the lightly-raced son of E Dubai may be this good.  Kodiak Kowboy got the best of Desert Key in the Amsterdam, but he may be best between 6-6.5 furlongs, and I didn't like the way he was weaving throughout the stretch run of the Amsterdam.  He should sit a solid trip in the second flight, however, and he really likes this surface.  The Florida contingent of Golden Spikes, Gentleman James, and Lantana Mob, all show big numbers, but this is a tougher spot.
Selections:  Desert Key, Kodiak Kowboy, J Be K

Travers:
Alan told us about Mambo in Seattle, a long time ago, and his faith may be rewarded in the Midsummer Derby.  I really liked Mambo in Seattle's recent stakes win at the Spa.  He was wide for most of the way, then battled gamely while on the rail in the stretch.  The final time of that race compared favorably with the Jim Dandy run on the same day at the same distance, and Mambo in Seattle should get a solid pace to attack in the Travers.  He reminds many handicappers of Neil Howard's Grasshopper as a late-blooming three-year-old ready to peak at the right time.  Macho Again showed his big heart in the Jim Dandy when turning back Pyro's late challenge, and both have the right running styles for this race.  I'm not sure 10 furlongs is really Macho Again's game, though, and the enigmatic Pyro looked like he had the whole stretch to blow by Macho Again to no avail.  Harlem Rocker's only loss came over polytrack, and he returned to his winning way by beating much weaker in the Prince of Wales.  He gets the acid test here, but he is obviously talented.  Colonel John got tired in the Swaps, but that race was obviously a prep, and he was wide throughout.  He can certainly win this, but still must prove himself over dirt.  Da' Tara is not as good as his Belmont looks, but not as bad as his Jim Dandy either.  I don't think the in-the-middle version is good enough to win this considering he may have to fight off Tizbig, Tres Borrachos, and Cool Coal Man early.
Selection:  Mambo in Seattle

Quick and Dirty Picks for Sunday:

Pacific Classic:  Awesome Gem
Ballerina:  Jibboom

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

***

Dan, do you have the Beyer speed figures for the stakes races run at Pinnacle RaceCourse this past weekend?
Moonbeam Handicap- Half A Glance
Michigan Breeder's Cup- All I Can Get

Half a Glance received a 77 while All I Can Get earned an 80.

***

Best of luck this weekend.

Take care,

Dan