12/08/2007 2:45PM

Saturday Stakes



Tampa Bay Downs has been one of the bright spots in American racing over the last few years, notching business gains and improving the quality of its product. It's also offering some commendable takeout reductions as it open its season today: The bite has been lowered from 25 % to 20 % on the pick four, from 21 % to 20 % on the pick three, and from 18 % to 17 % on straight WPS bets. The track has also scrapped its Twin Tri in favor of a pick six on the last six races each day, which will probably grow slowly but could get interesting whenever multiday carryovers reach critical (bettable) mass.

The opening-day feature is the $65k Lightning City Stakes at 5f on the grass, where Bucky's Prayer is the 5-2 favorite. If you're feeling a deja vu tingle, it's because Bucky's Prayer already won the 2007 Lightning City Stakes when it was run May 5 before being moved from the end to the beginning of the season's stakes schedule. If she wins the same stakes race twice in a year, good for her: The tough 5-year-old Michigan-bred mare ran a sensational race shipping from Great Lakes Downs to Saratoga last summer, contesting a blazing pace under an injudicious ride before settling for second in an overnight stakes race.

--The weekend's only graded stakes are today's trio at Aqueduct and Hollywood:

3:44 pm EST, Aqueduct race 8, G3 $100k Queens County H., 3+, 1 3/16 miles
Hunting, the longest shot in the field when he won his stakes debut in the G3 Stuyvesant three weeks ago, is the 9-5 ML favorite in a field reduced to five by the early scratch of Barracuda Boy. Hunting, a 4-year-old Coronado's Quest gelding, looks like he'll thrive at the unusual 9 1/2-furlong distance of the QC, and should get a strong pace to run at. Barcola, who stopped despite being loose on the lead in the Stuyvesant, may do a bit better over the inner track but faces early pressure from Marital Asset and Nkosi Reigns. Marital Asset has turned into a new horse since being turned over to the streaking Tony Dutrow for his last two starts, but those were 7f sprints at the Pha and he's no bargain stretching out with Barcola to tangle with early. Nkosi Reigns is the outsider I'll use along with Hunting, given some decent form last year and the possibility of sitting a garden trip behind the other two speeds. Evening Attire, three weeks from turning 10, still seems to be enjoying himself as a racehorse and has already banked $145k this year.

5:34 pm EST, Hollywood race 5, G1 $250k Hollywood Turf Cup, 3+, 1 1/2m-T
The latest forecast has the rain holding off until after the year's final G1 grass race, where all eight entrants will be seeking their first American G1 victory. Heroi do Bafra won two Group 1's in Brazil last year but is winless in four American starts against lesser. The other Group 1 winner, Sudan, is more intriguing: If you can overlook this globetrotter's dismal last-out effort in Sweden's Stockholm Cup, he has races last year in France against Rail Link and Red Rocks that would make him a standout in here. His G1 victory in Italy's Gran Premio di Milano this summer earned a higher Racing Post Rating than any of the efforts by Juddmonte/Frankel import Champs Elysees, who will be a much shorter price. There's nothing wrong with ML favorite Sunriver, who has been facing much better fields than the locals, but he may need a slow pace and a comfortble lead to handle the 12th furlong.

7:35 pm EST, Hollywood race 9, G3 $100k Native Diver H., 3+, 1 1/8m
Ravel is the deserving favorite and center of attention in a field of 10, and is supposed to win if he lives up to the high promise he's shown in just four career starts. On the other hand, he's probably going to off a lot shorter than his 5-2 ML odds, and the value play might be Arson Squad, fourth choice on the line at 6-1. He's taking a sharp class drop, can be forgiven his dull efforts over Del Mar's goofy Polytrack, and can win this if he runs back to his efforts in the San Fernando and Strub earlier this year.