03/01/2008 12:04PM

The Lineup 3/1/08


Thanks for your patience during a busy news week -- the FOY timing snafu, the Congressional steroid hearings, Curlin's return, the latest round of Breeders' Cup revisions (Download 0302column.doc) -- and for keeping the conversations going in my absence.

Wish I could say I've been off wagering with wild success or even abandon, but the truth is that February 2008 was my lowest-handle month in two years, as I took a break from the weak inner-track Aqueduct meet while continuing to dabble at Santa Anita. March, however, will be different, starting with today's in-like-a-lion Big 'Cap card, which includes three of the four graded stakes around the country.

Older main-track males are featured in the day's two richest races, the $1 million Big 'Cap and the $350k Gulfstream Park Handicap, but some would argue that the best such horse running today was in the $75k Stymie at Aqueduct: Daaher, who flopped at 2-5 in the Donn last month and will probably go off at an even lower price in the Stymie. He would have been odds-on for almost five times the Stymie purse in the Gulfstream race, but his handlers, still mystified by his Donn performance, didn't want to return to the scene of that fiasco. [Update: It's not Gulfstream: Daaher, in a virtual rerun of his Donn, folded in upper stretch at 2-5, finishing a weary third. ]

5:22 pm ET, GP race 9, G2 $350k Gulfstream Park H., OM 1 3/16 miles
In Daaher's absence, a weak field of five will line up here, led by the two horses who were closest to Daaher early in the Donn before tiring late: Kiss the Kid, who hounded the favorite and held on well for third, and Fairbanks, who faded to fifth in the race. They're the only speed today and are likely to run 1-2 around the track unless they really mix it up early, in which case Leonnatus Anteas, Canada's champion 2-year-old in 2006, may be the best of the three closers in the field.

6:24 pm ET, SA race 7, G3 $200k Sham S., 3yo, 1 1/8m
El Gato Malo and Colonel John, currently ranked as the #7 and #10 Derby prospects on the Watchmaker Watch, look a cut above their rivals especially following the early scratch of Coast Guard. El Gato Malo has run faster and holds a recency edge while Colonel John makes his first start since running second in the Hollywood Futurity Dec. 22. The only plausible upsetter is Reflect Times, who adds blinkers after suffering his first loss in the R.B. Lewis last time out.

6:57 pm ET, SA race 8, G1 $300k Kilroe Mile H., OM 1m-T
Maybe War Monger is on the verge of blossoming into a top-class miler, but I can't take him as the 8-5 ML favorite off a cross-country ship into the toughest field he's ever met. While he has a "steadied both turns" trouble line winning his last start, runner-up Soldier's Dancer had a worse trip. Graded winners Out of Control (American H., Oak Tree Mile) and Artiste Royale (C. L. Hirsch) are more inviting at 4-1 each in their season debuts.

7:30 pm ET, SA race 9, G1 $1 million SA Handicap, OM 1 1/4m
An inconclusive set of Strub Series preps and a field of 14 make this year's Big 'Cap look like an invitation to chaos at first glance, but the more you look at it, it's tough to make victory cases for most of them and the tepid favorites are probably the most likely winners. Awesome Gem and Student Council were prepping for this when they made their season debuts in the San Antonio and were out more for exercise than for victory that day. They, and Tiago, also should be better served by a Santa Anita track that has been playing more kindly to closers since its most recent renovation. Once complete bomb to consider is Great Hunter. Maybe he'll never be the same horse he was a year ago, but he's been slowly and quietly improving this winter and had no chance last time out behind a loose Monterey Jazz in the Strub.

There's a $1 million guarantee in the Santa Anita pick six today, which includes the three graded stakes, but the problem is that the last leg is a maiden race with eight first-time starters and a few who ran similar, decent races in their debuts. Good luck; I'll be ducking that race and focussing on the all-stakes pick-three.