05/26/2008 7:32AM

Monday stakes picks

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Let's take a quick look at the three Grade 1 races on Monday:

Metropolitan Handicap (Belmont - Race 10)
Commentator is obviously the horse to catch and beat, but it's either boom or bust with him, and he won't offer much value on the win end.  Instead, I'll go with Divine Park, who seems to be coming into his own for Kiaran McLaughlin.  Divine Park parlayed a good stalking trip into victory in the local Met prep (Westchester), and shouldn't be too far off Commentator here.  Toss out the Malibu (cushion track, post 14), and General George (broke through gate over wet track) debacles, and you're left with an undefeated colt.
Commentator has done nothing wrong this year, and he thumped weaker in the Richter Scale at Gulfstream.  He's brilliantly fast, and would be no surprise.
Justin has Premium Wine and Z Humor in the Met, and I prefer the former coming from well off the pace.  This will be his first start at a mile, but the son of Prime Timber should handle the one-turn route, and would appreciate a quick pace up front.  He had a tough trip in the General George, and was rallying nicely along the rail in the Grade 1 Carter last time out. 
First Defence looks like an interesting runner.  He ran well against Hard Spun in the Grade 1 King's Bishop last year, and kicked off his 2008 campaign with a game score at Churchill.  He may put the heat on Commentator on the turn.
Selection:  Divine Park

Gamely Stakes (Hollywood - Race 3)
A short field without much pace, and that should play nicely to Precious Kitten's strengths.  The multiple Grade 1 winner makes her second start of the year, and has won her last three races on the West Coast.  She should be able to make the top, back down the fractions, and have enough left to hold off a hard-charging Rutherienne.
Rutherienne is Steve T.'s arch-nemesis, but you have to give her credit with nine wins in 11 starts.  She won the Del Mar Oaks in Southern California last year for excellent ship-in trainer Christophe Clement, and she beat Precious Kitten at Keeneland.  She's a late-runner, though, and may need some more pace to attack.
Diamond Diva had a nice trip in the Wilshire Handicap, and she has enough tactical speed to stay close to Precious Kitten early.  The extra distance is a question mare, however, and she will be tested for class. 
Selections:  Precious Kitten, Rutherienne, Diamond Diva

Shoemaker Mile (Hollywood - Race 9)
Unlike the Gamely, this field is full of pace horses.  Daytona is likely the quickest of the speeds, but he may face pressure, and that would set things up for a midpack runner.  Let's go with Thousand Words and Frankel for the upset.  He'll make the third start of the form cycle after faltering on the main track at Kentucky, and should really appreciate returning to his best surface.  He won a mile turf race at Santa Anita three back from off the pace, and I can envision a similar pace scenario in here. 
Hyperbaric was necked by Daytona in the Arcadia when forced to attack that one a bit early.  His kick may be a bit stronger if allowed to relax in the early stages, and Rafael Bejarano may let others do the dirty work with Daytona here.  He's lightly-raced, and may have another improved performance in the tank.
Former claimer Ever a Friend won the Grade 1 Kilroe last time out, but he pressed moderate fractions that day, and will probably have to chase quicker splits in this spot.  His Beyers are on the way up, and he was given plenty of time to recover from that 106 performance on March 1. 
Daytona has been a revelation for Dan Hendricks, and he looks like he'll try to control things up front one more time.  The recent bullet works allay fears of a regression, but he may be softened up by Ever a Friend, Mast Track, and Get Funky. 
Selections:  Thousand Words, Hyperbaric, Ever a Friend, Daytona.

Let me know who you like today.

Best of luck,

Dan