01/15/2011 1:55PM

Six Graded Stakes

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Six graded stakes races top this weekend's racing action. 

Sprinters will be on display at Gulfstream Park on Saturday as Big Drama makes his four-year-old debut in the Mr. Prospector Stakes.  At Santa Anita, Blind Luck, very likely to be named 2010 three-year-old filly champion, gets back to the races in the El Encino.  Also, three-year-olds get an opportunity to earn valuable graded stakes earnings in the Sham Stakes.

Let's take a look:

Santa Ynez Stakes - Santa Anita - Race 6 - Track Condition and Scratches (N/A):

I do think that trainer John Sadler is making a wise move in turning ZAZU back in distance.  The $285,000 daughter of Tapit was an impressive maiden winner going 6 1/2 furlongs on October 15 before finishing second to the very promising Turbulent Descent in the seven-furlong Moccasin Stakes on November 21.  Understandably, Sadler wanted to see if Zazu could route so he then entered her in the Grade 1 Hollywood Starlet on December 11.  Things didn't work out as Zazu was merely one-paced from start-to-finish.  It's possible that she packs a bigger wallop sprinting and she should be very tough this afternoon as she makes her first start on dirt.
CALIFORNIA NECTAR is an underrated California-bred and is one of only two multiple-race winners in this field.  The winner of the California Breeders' Championship at this distance last time out, California Nectar should be close to the pace under Pat Valenzuela.  STAR PRESENCE, a $450,000 daughter of Forest Wildcat, burned a ton of money in her first four races before breaking out with a maiden win going a mile in her first start on dirt.  Perhaps, she's been a dirt horse all along.  Don't be surprised if Mike Smith attempts to rate her off what could be a quick early pace.
Selections:  Zazu, California Nectar, Star Presence

San Fernando Stakes - Santa Anita - Race 8 - Track Condition (N/A) - Early Scratch (Sidney's Candy - #3)

The story of the San Fernando is the early scratch of SIDNEY'S CANDY, who would certainly have been the odds-on favorite as the controlling speed.  Sadler feels that the injury to Sidney's Candy isn't too serious as he is hoping to make the Strub Stakes here next month. 
With Sidney's Candy out, INDIAN FIREWATER may assume the role of pacesetter.  He was in closest attendance to Sidney's Candy in the early stages of the Grade 3 Sir Beaufort on Opening Day at Santa Anita, and his best races have come when allowed to set the tempo.  The distance is my main concern with Indian Firewater.  He has lost ground from the stretch call to the wire in his last five races, and is 0-6 in routes.  He could prove vulnerable in the stretch.
Instead, I'll go with the other half of Bob Baffert's uncoupled entry, TWEEBSTER.  A $300,000 son of Tapit, Tweebster was a terrible disappointment in his first seven races, losing at odds ranging from 6-5 to 4-1.  The light finally went on three starts back as Tweebster won a maiden race on the grass.  Since then, he's won a pair of races at this distance on the Hollywood cushion track.  The dirt is a question mark for Tweebster, but Rafael Bejarano can keep the tactically-inclined ridgeling close to his stablemate, and he may outstay them in the stretch. 
VICTORY WITH HONOR is an up-and-coming son of Tiznow.  A homebred for WinStar Farms, Victory With Honor has won both races this form cycle and will now make the two sprints to a route move for Eoin Harty.  This will obviously be a major class test for Victory With Honor, but the lightly-raced colt has upside potential.
Selections:  Tweebster, Indian Firewater, Victory With Honor

El Encino Stakes - Santa Anita - Race 8 (Sunday) - Track Condition and Scratches (N/A):

BLIND LUCK was the best three-year-old filly to race in North American in 2010 and is obviously the horse to beat in the Grade 2 El Encino Stakes at 1 1/16 miles over the Santa Anita main track on Sunday.  Her accomplishments and record speaks for themselves, but you guys know that I usually try to beat short-priced, one-run closers.  I almost beat Blind Luck on three occasions in 2010 (Evening Jewel in the Las Virgenes, Havre de Grace in both the Delaware Oaks and Alabama), but Blind Luck not only has a great amount of class, but a feel for where the wire lies. 
Nonetheless, I'll try to take her down again on Sunday, this time with MALIBU PIER.  A facile winner of a 'n2x' optional claimer over the Hollywood cushion track on November 21, Malibu Pier turned back to seven furlongs for the Grade 1 La Brea on Opening Day, and suffered a tough trip,  She was steadied after the break, was buried down on the rail for most of the running, and still came with a solid late run to finish second behind the quality filly Switch.  Malibu Pier appreciates this distance, and may get the jump on Blind Luck while stalking likely pacesetter CHAMPAGNE D'ORO. 
I went down in flames with ALWAYS A PRINCESS in the La Brea, and really couldn't find an excuse for her fair fourth-place finish.  Perhaps she'll improve in her second start following the layoff line, and she is a graded stakes-winner at this distance.
Selections:  Malibu Pier, Blind Luck, Always a Princess

Santa Anita Quick and Dirty Pick:
Sham Stakes - Tapizar, Clubhouse Ride, Uncle Sam

Sugar Swirl Stakes - Gulfstream Park - Race 9 - Track FAST, No Scratches:

I've been waffling back-and-forth concerning this race since the entries were announced.  On the DRF Stakes Preview

http://www.drf.com/news/jessica-back-eyes-more-black-type-sugar-swirl-stakes

(pardon my appearance, I look terrible, I know), I was leaning toward MOONTUNE MISSY, a filly that I actually liked at 44-1 in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint at Churchill Downs.  Moontune Missy seemed to be in a good position going into the turn, but she steadied from in between horses, and soon called it a day.  I thought she ran well two starts back at Belmont Park, and her tactical speed should serve her well in this spot. 
After further review, I will finally settle on HILDA'S PASSION as my top pick (now watch Moontune Missy name her margin).  A winner of her last two starts, Hilda's Passion looked pretty good in winning the Grade 2 Raven Run last time out.  She dueled early, took control of things on the turn, and gamely held sway in the stretch.  She draws way outside, but has enough speed to be right on the early pace. 
TAR HEEL MOM makes the second start since suffering a fractured left leg.  She gave seven pounds to a sharp Nicole H in her return, and it was a useful prep for the mare that run so well to no avail at Gulfstream last year.  Expect her to be prominently-placed when the field turns for home.  All-in-all, a really nice race.
Selections:  Hilda's Passion, Moontune Missy, Tar Heel Mom

Gulfstream Quick-and-Dirty Pick:
Mr. Prospector Stakes:  Big Drama, Custom for Carlos, Taqarub
 
More importantly, who do you like this weekend?  I want to know.