08/15/2009 9:40AM

Stakes Horses to Watch

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Let's take a look at horses to watch in some of this weekend's stakes races.  Include or discard (probably discard) as you see fit:

TENSAS YUCATAN (Gardenia Handicap - Ellis Park)

A likeable Louisiana-bred, Tensas Yucatan has won 8 of 18 in her career, but may drift in the wagering thanks to a poor running line last time out.  That race was over yielding turf at Churchill Downs, however, and the switch back to dirt coupled with the "second off the layoff" angle may be just what the doctor ordered.  The last time Tensas Yucatan competed on the main track, she put the boots to the field at this one-mile distance at the Fair Grounds.  She is quick from the gate, but doesn't seem like a "need-the-lead" type, and a ground-saving, pace-tracking trip would work out well with other speeds entered to her outside.

JUST JENDA (Monmouth Oaks - Monmouth Park)

The Grade 3 winner of the Honeybee earlier this year at Oaklawn Park is another of Rachel Alexandra's victims to come back with a vengeance.  After being drubbed by the superfilly in the Grade 2 Fantasy, Just Jenda returned to finish second in the Eight Belles Stakes before thoroughly dominating her foes in the Monmouth Oaks prep, the Serena's Song Stakes at Monmouth on July 19.  The nature of that win points her out this afternoon.  After bobbling a bit at the start, and tracking the pace inside for the first three furlongs, jockey Eddie Castro sent Just Jenda after the leaders from in between horses late on the backstretch.  The race was soon over, and Just Jenda drew away in hand during the final eighth of a mile.  She seems to be back on her best game, and has enough tracking speed to stay close to the expected moderate pace.

NEW WAY (La Jolla - Del Mar)

It's quite possible that New Way doesn't want to go this far as he tired badly in his only prior route attempt, but that race was against Pioneerof the Nile, and New Way was simply overmatched.  His last race produced more question marks than answers as he seemed to want to lug in during the stretch drive.  Perhaps he was a bit short as it was his first race off the bench, and he could be tighter for this go-around.  Expect him to sit a nice pocket trip while saving ground.  We'll learn more about him this afternoon, but at least he should be a good price for this engagement.

TUSCAN EVENING (John C. Mabee Handicap - Del Mar - Sunday)

This is a very contentious race, but Tuscan Evening won the Royal Heroine last time out with something left in the tank.  Even though she was involved in a pitched stretch battle with Patricia's Gem, and only prevailed by a nose, you'll notice that Rafael Bejarano never went to the whip in the lane.  Perhaps it's because Tuscan Evening is a temperamental sort (she tends to jump shadows), or perhaps he knew what he had underneath her, or perhaps he underestimated a good filly in Patricia's Gem.  Whatever the case, Tuscan Evening looked good, she's won five of six sinxce shipping her from Europe, and proved last time out she doesn't need the lead to win.  She's going to have to be good again because Magical Fantasy looks very tough once again.

MILITARY STAR (New York Bred Maiden Special Weight - Saratoga - Saturday)

If you get a chance, please head on over to the Saratoga section of the website as the great Harvey Pack and I filmed a short video on today's guaranteed Pick 4 at the Spa.  We hit it two weeks ago, but that's not really the point of these segments.  Saratoga isn't Saratoga without Harvey so we felt like we had to give him a forum to connect with the fans. 
In the anchor leg of the Pick 4, I like Military Star, a first-time starter for Barclay Tagg.  If you blindly bet any Tagg-trained firster in 2009, you're showing an ROI of $5.02, and a couple of those firsters won in turf routes.  The dam was a turf winner, and the July 27 workout over the training turf course (59 2/5) went in the exact same time as Radical Sabbatical, and older Tagg horse that has run some nice races on the grass.  Perhaps they worked in company.

J Z WARRIOR (Addison Mallery Stakes - Saratoga - Sunday)

J Z Warrior sold for $1.125 million dollars last November, and has only won once since that race, but that was a good effort in the slop at Belmont two back.  She was shuffled back to last entering the far turn, but showed off a resolute late kick to split horses and win going away.  Last time out, she ran evenly on turf, but she's a better filly on the main track, and has the tactical speed to lead or stalk...whatever Kent D. sees fit. It's always dicey picking horses off slop lines in fast-track races, but J Z Warrior really loves sprinting, and she already owns a win at the Spa in her career.

BANROCK (West Point Handicap - Saratoga - Sunday)

Banrock was the scourge of the statebred turf division in 2008, and he wasn't disgraced against Presious Passion in his last two starts out of the New York-bred ranks.  He probably does his best running on wet turf as his last six wins (and 7 of 9 career victories) have come on "off" turf, but he may simply outclass these rain or shine.  He's not the greatest win bet in the world, but he's a logical horse for the late Pick 4.

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Congratulations to dolphinblue for finishing first in last week's HandiGambling exercise.  He gets to pick next week's race.

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I'm sorry that I'm so backed up on addressing comments, pp requests, etc., but I'm knee-deep in pedigree, trainer, and workout information for the Spa Babies column on drfplus.  Bear with me as I'll get to them ASAP...most likely on Monday along with the weekly Beyer recap.

Thanks,

Dan