02/09/2008 12:43PM

The Lineup 2/9/08


There's plenty to keep a handicapper busy this sixth Saturday of 2008:

*The third and fourth Grade 1 stakes of the year, the Santa Maria and Las Virgenes at Santa Anita, and seven other graded stakes at Fair Grounds, Gulfstream, Oaklawn and Santa Anita;

*A Fair Grounds card featuring appearances by last year's #1 juvenile filly (Indian Blessing) and #2 juvenile colt (Pyro), races that are part of an all-stakes pick-four and pick-six;

*A $181k pick-six carryover at Santa Anita that has ben gathering dust since last Saturday;

* A Magna 5 consisting of one from Laurel and two each from Gulfstream and Santa Anita

Here's the lineup:

3:55 pm ET: FG race 6, G3 $150k Mineshaft Handicap, 4+, 1 1/16m
The FG all-stakes pick-four starts here (the pick-six starts two races earlier with a pair of ungraded hundred-granders, the Pan Zareta for sprinting fillies and the Col. Power for turf sprinters.) The marquee names and likeliest winners in the Mineshaft are Magna Graduate (2-1 ML), whose six graded-stakes victories are six more than the rest of the field combined; and Grasshopper(5-2), unraced since running second in the Travers and Super Derby.

4:25 pm ET: FG Race 7, G3 $150k Fair Grounds H., 4+, about 1 1/8 m-T
Better Talk Now (3-1) carries top weight of 121 pounds making his season debut as a 9-year-old. his first start since running 4th in the BC Turf. He has fired off the bench before, winning the '05 Ft. Marcy and '06 Dixie in seasonal bows. Daytona(IRE), next in the weights (119) and ML (7-2) has won three straight graded stakes in California while Inca King (117/9-2) has won three straight ungraded stakes in the midwest.

4:31 pm ET: SA race 3, G1 $250k Santa Maria H., OF 1 1/16 m
Tough Tiz's Sis faces the softest field she's met in almost a year, with only 18-for-32 Somethinaboutlaura (who's better sprinting) appearing capable of making a race of it. Their four opponents are all seeking their first graded stakes victory.

4:39 pm ET: Magna 5
Leg A: Race 10, Laurel (3yo, N1x, 6f)
Leg B: Race 4, Santa Anita (OF, Msw, 6.5f-T)
Leg C: Race 9, Gulfstream (G2 stakes, see below)
Leg D: Race 5, Santa Anita (OF, N1x, 7f) -- also start of SA pick six
Leg E: Race 10, Gulfstream (OF, N1x, 1 1/16-T)

4:55 pm ET: FG race 8, G3 $200k Silverbullerday S., 3F, 1 1/16m
Indian Blessing(4-5) and Proud Spell (7-2) meet again after running 1-2 in the BC Juvenile Fillies. Everyone seems to be trying to beat the favorite off her narrow survival at 1-10 against lesser last time out, but she may just be a better filly on real dirt and can put these away early.

5:13 pm ET: GP race 9, G2 $150k Forward Gal S., 3F 7f
Keep the Peace is 2-1 making her stakes debut after easy, front-running maiden and allowance scores and appears to be the lone speed breaking from the rail. Second choice Bsharpsonata, the lone Oaks Futures entrant in the field of seven, turns back off two turf-route stakes victories but will need a strong pace to be effective and is unproven on dirt.

5:28 pm ET: FG race 9, G3 $200k Risen Star S., 3yo 1 1/16m
Champagne and BC Juvenile runner-up Pyro makes his 3-year-old debut against Z Fortune and 10 others and seems unlikely to be as high as his 3-1 ML odds. Z Fortune has the advantages of tactical speed and a race over the track, but Pyro may just be the best horse, and a strong performance would also boost the stock of War Pass. Check It Out is an early scratch.

6:02 pm ET: OP race 9, G3 $100k Essex H., 4+ 1 1/16m
A contentious and tricky race on two counts: Jonesboro and Spotsgone are one-way speeds who may compromise each other, and contenders Silver Lord and Prom Shoes come out of a Louisiana Handicap where the first three finishers all earned suspiciously high career-best figures. At 4-1 or better, I might try Gouldings Green, who should get an inside trip and a pace to run at late.

6:36 pm ET: SA race 7, G1 $250k Las Virgenes, 3F 1m
Indian Blessing would have been odds-on had she stayed home for this shorter, richer G1; it's a testament to how much Baffert thinks she hates Cushion Track that he sent her to Louisiana. In her absence, the field of seven makes a strong case for downgrading the event. Golden Doc A, the 5-2 ML favorite, has not won beyond six furlongs and was 9th at 40-1 in her lone previous G1 attempt. Lovely Isle, the 3-1 second choice, comes off a 19-length defeat and makes her fourth career start for four different trainers. At 7-2 I'd try Tasha's Miracle, who had excuses in her last two juvenile starts and may have the most upside among these.

7:07 pm ET: SA race 8, G2 $250k San Antonio H, 4+ 1 1/8m
Postponed from last Sunday, the redrawn San Antonio features a rematch among the Pacific Classic 1-2-5 finishers -- Student Council, Awesome Gem and Big Booster. The question is whether any of them will be fully cranked as they make their seasonal debuts while prepping for the the Santa Anita Handicap three weeks hence. Your alternatives are the closely-matched and cut-below crew that contested the Native Diver and San Pasqual -- Zappa, Well Armed, Heatseeker and Racketeer; Sweetnorthernsaint, the '06 Derby favorite and Preakness runner-up who hasn't done much since; and Rathor, who's not the worst idea in the world at double-digit odds in a race that anyone can win.