03/18/2011 3:10PM

Rivalry Renewed in Azeri, Weekend Thoughts

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The underrated rivalry between female stars BLIND LUCK and HAVRE DE GRACE is expected to continue at Oaklawn Park on Saturday. 

Add in THE FACTOR's two-turn debut in the Rebel Stakes and you have another fascinating weekend of racing action. 

For what they're worth, here are some opinions:

INSIDE INFORMATION STAKES - RACE 10 - GULFSTREAM:

If you get a chance to watch the weekend stakes videos I do with Mike Beer (I'll add the link at the bottom of this blog post), you'll enjoy Mike's reaction to my selection, MILWAUKEE APPEAL. 

I'm more bullish than he is, but it's quite possible I'm playing the mare more with my heart than with my head.  A reformed maiden claimer that's gone on to earn over a million dollars, Milwaukee Appeal hasn't won a race since June 7, 2009, but has been placed in some tough, tough spots.  She ran third against males in the Queen's Plate and second against the boys in the Prince Of Wales.  She ran second in the Alabama behind runaway Careless Jewel and third in the Grade 2 Shuvee.  Milwaukee Appeal placed third in the Grade 2 Molly Pitcher and was a very game second in the Grade 1 Spinster over polytrack on October 10.  That afternoon, she raced three wide throughout and still dug in courageously to just miss by a half-length. 

Whether it's sprinting or going long, she usually gives an honest effort, but she has done her best running on synthetics and it's questionable whether she's as good on dirt.  Also, you always have to wonder if these Canadian snowbirds are merely using their South Florida excursions as prep runs for races north of the border. 

Still, I'll give her a chance in the Inside Information based on her consistency, the fact that I liked her run in the Spinster, and that she raced on a deep rail when overmatched last time out in the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic.  Also, while I respect the early zip of HILDA'S PASSION, I wonder if she was aided by a speed-favoring surface when she won the Grade 3 Hurricane Bertie with a 100 Beyer on February 13. 

I've always been a big fan of MS VANENZZA and she may have been compromised by the speed track in the Hurricane Bertie.  She'll go third off the bench for an underrated barn and isn't out of the mix.  AMEN HALLELUJAH makes her third start following the injury-induced layoff and should offer better value than her last two races. 

Selections:  Milwaukee Appeal, Hilda's Passion, Ms Vanenzza

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SANTA ANA STAKES - RACE 7 - SANTA ANITA:

My goal here is to try and defeat ECLAIR DE LUNE, the 2010 Beverly D winner that was a beaten favorite in her most recent effort at Santa Anita on January 23.  While she is a Grade 1 winner, I've never really been a huge fan of Eclair de Lune and she hasn't done her best running over the Santa Anita turf course.  She's only run twice since the Beverly D., and I'm not sure she's worth a short price even if she gets a nice trip tracking probable pacesetter CHURCH CAMP. 

Instead, I'll go with LILLY FA POOTZ, a former $7,500 claimer that has earned almost 250K for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer since being haltered for $16,000 at Golden Gate on December 10, 2009.  Second by a nose in the Grade 2 John C. Mabee at this distance last year, Lilly Fa Pootz has been the victim of two tough trips in a row.  In the Megahertz on January 23, she made an early move to prompt solid fractions while three wide before dropping a tough decision to IT TIZ.  Last time out, in the Grade 2 Buena Vista Handicap on February 21, she made another premature bid, this time four wide, before understandably tiring late. 

Lilly Fa Pootz has a tendency to pull hard so it's up to Corey Nakatani to get her to relax in the early portion of this race.  If she does settle kindly, she could be tough to deal with late.

CHURCH CAMP gets a major class and distance test, but could be lone speed at a price.  MALIBU PIER may work out a good ground-saving trip under Rafael Bejarano, but she's disappointed somewhat in her last two races.  I thought she ran a corker three back against Switch in the Grade 1 La Brea, however.

Selections:  Lilly Fa Pootz, Church Camp, Malibu Pier

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AZERI STAKES - RACE 9 - OAKLAWN:

I've followed the BLIND LUCK - HAVRE DE GRACE rivalry with fascination, and my wallet has come out on the short end of the bargain.  I felt like I "discovered" Havre de Grace when I bet her in the Delaware Oaks, and was crestfallen when she was nosed out at 6-1 odds by Blind Luck.  I went right back to Havre de Grace in the Grade 1 Alabama at Saratoga, and was downtrodden when she got necked at 7-1 by Blind Luck.  Finally, Havre de Grace won one for me, but she was 6-5 when she outfinished the Hollendorfer filly in the Cotillion at Parx. 

Now, the two gladiators battle in the Azeri.  What do I do?  I must admit I have question marks with both of the favorites.  Blind Luck, while remarkably consistent and classy, just hasn't shown the same verve in her last few races as she did when she was the dominant 3-year-old filly in the country in 2010.  Her lead changes haven't been as smooth, and her late kick hasn't been as explosive.  She's still plenty good, but it's possible that she's dropped off just a touch.

As for Havre de Grace, the major goal for her this spring is likely the Apple Blossom Handicap so it wouldn't be surprising if she's less than 100% cranked up for the Azeri.  That could set things up for a new shooter, and SPACY TRACY may be the right one.  A perfect 3-3 on the dirt, Spacy Tracy goes out for the trainer-jockey combination of Tony Dutrow and Jeremy Rose (the former connections of Havre de Grace).  Last time out, in the Grade 2 Top Flight Handicap at Aqueduct, Spacy Tracy was stuck on the inside turning for home, and had to alter course twice to find the four path in midstretch.  Once clear, she came with a strong run to get up on the line.  Blessed with tactical speed, Spacy Tracy shouldn't be too far off the early leaders and may attempt to get the jump on Blind Luck and Havre de Grace turning for home. 

While the uncoupled entry of TIDAL POOL and ABSINTHE MINDED need to improve to beat the top ones, both of the Lukas-trained runners love the Oaklawn surface.  Absinthe Minded may attempt to steal off to a lonely lead, and she could get brave if allowed to control moderate splits. 

Selections:  Spacy Tracy, Havre de Grace, Blind Luck

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ORCHID STAKES - RACE 10 - GULFSTREAM (SUNDAY):

In a wide-open turf marathon, I'll lean on ZAPPARITION, a former $30,000 maiden claimer that has blossomed in recent stats for trainer Dale Romans.  She won over this course and distance two starts back before giving a good account of herself in the Grade 3 The Very One Stakes on February 20.  That day, she made an early three wide bid and was involved in a strong stretch duel with the classy Keertana before coming up a bit short.  She makes the third start of the form cycle today, and this field doesn't look as good as the one she faced last time (Keertana would probably go favored). 

Looking for a thrill on the lead?  Perhaps QUEEN MARTHA can take these wire to window.  Second to Rachel Alexandra last year on dirt, Queen Martha has disappointed in her subsequent starts, but she ran well on grass in her North American debut, and could be loose on the front end. 

Selections:  Zapparition, Queen Martha, Tarrip

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SAN LUIS REY STAKES - RACE 4 - SANTA ANITA (SUNDAY):

With leading turf marathoners Champ Pegasus and Bourbon Bay getting ready for a tilt in Dubai, the San Luis Rey gives a new face an opportunity to grab the brass ring in one of these graded events.  The logical runner is HAIMISH HY, who finished third to the big two in the Grade 2 San Luis Obispo.  Haimish Hy won the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby last year, but is a one-run closer that is usually at the mercy of race and pace luck.  He's dangerous, but I'll search for a price wtih JUNIPER PASS, who removes blinkers while adding Bejarano.

Juniper Pass saved every inch of ground in the Obispo, but just couldn't punch it in during the final furlong.  Perhaps he'll show some improvemnt in the third start of the form cycle with a recent bullet work on display. 

DAHOUD steps up in class after winning an entry-level allowance race 17 days ago, but he failed to switch leads in the stretch, and will be going from a mile to 12 furlongs in the San Luis Rey.  He may be lone speed, but he's going to have to be really good to pull off the theft. 

BUENOS DIAS ran well when third in the Grade 1 Hollywood Turf Cup to finish off his 5-year-old season, but he didn't change leads in the Obispo, and it's possible that he's better on the Hollywood and/or Del Mar grass.

Selections:  Juniper Pass, Buenos Dias, Dahoud

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Quick and Dirty Saturday Selections:

CICADA - RACE 9 - AQUEDUCT - Roman Treasure, Coax Liberty, In Step
REBEL - RACE 10 - OAKLAWN - The Factor, Sway Away, Archarcharch

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For a more-detailed analysis, check out the weekend stakes video previews at the link below (should be updated Friday evening/Saturday morning):

http://www.drf.com/news/weekend-stakes-preview-videos

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