10/01/2010 3:36PM

Super Saturday with Zenyatta, Blame, and more

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Racing fans live for weekends like this. 

At Belmont and Hollywood Park, horseplayers will feast on 10 Grade 1 races.  Many, if not all, are crucial prep races for the World Thoroughbred Championships. 

Some of the biggest names in the sport will be in action on Saturday, but Zenyatta is the gold standard.  Seeking her nineteenth straight victory without a loss, the Reflection of Perfection will be odds-on as she seeks her third consecutive win in the Lady's Secret at Oak Tree. 

If Zenyatta and Quality Road are the Barbie and Ken dolls of the racing world, then Blame is the blue-collar Joe that always gets the job done professionally and well.  Riding a five-race win streak, including scores in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs and the Grade 1 Whitney Handicap at Saratoga, Blame will navigate 1 1/4 miles for the first time when he faces the talented Rail Trip in the historic Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup Invitational at Belmont Park. 

Red Desire, a Group 1 winner in her native Japan and conqueror of Dubai World Cup hero Gloria de Campeo in March's Maktoum Challenge (Round 3), will likely go off favored when she makes her North American debut in the Grade 1 Flower Bowl Invitational at 1 1/4 miles over Belmont's Inner Turf.  A good performance, more than likely, will lead to a berth in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf.  To win the Flower Bowl, she'll have to beat back Forever Together, the grand gray mare that won the Filly and Mare Turf in 2008 at Oak Tree.

The retirement of 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra earlier this week put a damper on the Grade 1 Beldame, but two fillies that vanquished Rachel Alexandra this season, Unrivaled Belle and Persistently, will attempt to upend Grade 1 winner Life At Ten in the one-turn route. 

Paddy O'Prado, arguably the best three-year-old turfer in the land, will try older horses and 12 furlongs for the first time in the Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational over Belmont's Widener Turf. 

J P's Gusto, the top 2-year-old male in the West, and Tell a Kelly, the top juvenile filly in Southern California, headline the Grade 1 Norfolk and Grade 1 Oak Leaf, respectively.  Both will attempt two turns for the first time. 

The undefeated Twirling Candy will get his sternest challenge to date in the Grade 1 Goodwood at nine furlongs over Hollywood's cushion track.  The Candy Ride colt looms the main speed, but will have to fend off two-time Pacific Classic winner Richard's Kid, Hollywood Gold Cup kingpin Awesome Gem, and Crown of Thorns, the runner-up in last year's Breeders' Cup Sprint. 

Lookin At Lucky, the 2009 champion juvenile and leading three-year-old male, will attempt to add the Grade 2 Indiana Derby to his resume while Blind Luck, the top sophomore filly, figures tough to beat in the Grade 2 Cotillion at Parx Racing. 

It's a veritable smorgasbord of quality racing.  Here are a couple of opinions. 

***Norfolk - Oak Tree at Hollywood - Race 6:

J P'S GUSTO was tremendous in winning the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity on September 8, and is absolutely the horse to beat in the Norfolk.  In the Futurity, he was involved in an early pace battle through solid fractions before drawing off with impunity in the final quarter-mile.  He draws the rail and one would expect Pat Valenzuela, one of the best gate riders in the history of the sport, to put J P's Gusto on the engine. 
The main question is distance.  By Successful Appeal out of a Caller I. D. mare, J P's Gusto is bred to excel in sprints, not two-turn routes.  The dam was a multiple stakes-winner going five furlongs on the turf, but she did win her only route, a one-mile race on grass.  Successful Appeal also won at a mile, but that seemed to be his absolute limit. 
As the short-priced favorite, J P'S GUSTO is not a great bet, but it's very hard to pick against him given his excellent current form. 
Selections:  J P's Gusto, Acaffella, Jaycito

***Lady's Secret - Oak Tree at Hollywood - Race 7:

Listen, I'm not going to tell anyone to bet against ZENYATTA.  Her record and accomplishments speak for themselves, and she's undoubtedly one of the best horses we've ever seen.  It would be good for racing if she wins her nineteenth straight on Saturday and heads to the Breeders' Cup Classic looking to go 20 for 20. 
Still, I believe there's another runner in this race that deserves a mention.  SATANS QUICK CHICK hasn't raced since late January, but this filly has shown flashes of major ability during her short career. 
Four starts back, she broke the track record for a mile and 70 yards in a 'n3L' allowance at Presque Isle Downs.  In that race, she made a three-wide bid on the final turn, blew by the leader, and won geared down by over eighth lengths. 
Two races ago, in the Grade 2 Raven Run Stakes at Keeneland, Satans Quick Chick was squeezed at the start and was stopped badly from the quarter-pole to upper stretch.  When she did find racing room, she split horses and exploded up the inside to defeat three next-out winners. 
She didn't win her most recent start, her first and only run on dirt, but she was in behind horses turning for home and rallied gamely for the place behind a loose, gate-to-wire winner.  The layoff is obviously a concern as is the fact that she shares the same running style as the mighty Zenyatta. 
A win may be out of her reach, but she's worth a small stab at appealing odds.  Obviously, Zenyatta gets the lion's share of multi-race plays.
Selections:  Satans Quick Chick, Zenyatta, Switch

***Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational - Belmont - Race 9:

At the highly-successful FormBlog Convention at Arlington Park, I told Jim Tully that it's "tough to play a horse like Winchester at 3-5," after the Christophe Clement-trained five-year-old was mowed down by AL KHALI in the Grade 2 Bowling Green Handicap.  And it is.  But Winchester won't be 3-5 in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic and he has been one of the more consistent U. S.-based grass horses in 2010. 
Winchester took the measure of two-time champion Gio Ponti in the Grade 1 Manhattan on Belmont Stakes afternoon and has been knocking on the door in his last two races.  Two back, he was no match for Chinchon's amazing late kick. 
Last time, he was four wide on the turn, only to be outrun late by Al Khali, a horse that had all sorts of traffic issues. 
Winchester will never be mistaken for a star, but you know what you're going to get with him.  You'll get your money's worth, and that's good enough for me in this very tough running of the Joe Hirsch. 
Selections:  Winchester, Paddy O'Prado, Telling

***Flower Bowl Invitational - Belmont - Race 7:

Red Desire figures to get most of the pari-mutuel attention.  A Group 1 winner at this distance in Japan, she ran third behind star mare Vodka in the Japan Cup while finishing ahead of two-time Breeders' Cup Turf winner Conduit. 
This year, she beat Gloria de Campeao over Tapeta before fading in the World Cup.  After a fourth-place finish in the Group 1 Victoria Mile at Tokyo, Red Desire bled during a workout, and was sent to the United States where she will receive Lasix for the first time.  She's the most likely winner on paper, but I'm a sucker for AVE, a Danehill Dancer filly that is still seeking her first victory in North America. 
A Group 3 winner in Ireland, Ave has run some good races in the United States.  In the Grade 3 Gallorette, she broke poorly and was last on the rail turning for home before uncorking a strong late rally to finish third, ahead of three next-out winners. 
I believe she was too close to the pace in the five-horse New York on June 19, and she lost by a dirty nose after angling widest at Woodbine two starts back. 
Last time, in the Grade 1 Beverly D. at Arlington, Ave was mugged going into the first turn and never did any running afterwards.  While I would have liked to have seen a semblance of run in the stretch, I'll give her a mulligan for that race and figure to get acceptable odds in the Flower Bowl.  A wet turf course may play to her strengths as well as she won over soft going in England last year.
Selections:  Ave, Red Desire, Shared Account

***Vosburgh Stakes - Belmont - Race 6

This doesn't look like the strongest Vosburgh in history, and GIROLAMO looks like the horse to beat in his second start of the year. 
Last time out, in the Grade 1 Forego, Girolamo was in the thick of things in midstretch before understandably tiring late.  That was his first start since the 2009 Breeders' Cup Classic and Girolamo can be forgiven for being a bit short. 
Expect him to be tighter for this assignment and he can work out a good pace-tracking trip under Alan Garcia.  Although he's never raced at six furlongs in the past, Girolamo has two wins at seven panels and has been sharpened up with a pair of good workouts over the Belmont main track.
Selections:  Girolamo, Latigo Shore, Driven by Success

***Clement L. Hirsch Memorial Turf Championship - Hollywood (Sunday) - Race 8

I usually don't like to play short-priced horses following good trips, but CHAMP PEGASUS may simply be the best horse.  In his most recent race, the Grade 2 Del Mar Handicap at 11 furlongs, Champ Pegasus was the beneficiary of a wicked pace and a ground-saving trip.  Still, I like the way he finished and he's been in excellent recent for for Richard Mandella. 
He'll have to catch likely pacesetter MARLANG, a runner that beat Champ Pegasus two back, but Marlang bombed last time out at Saratoga, and has been on the road quite a bit in recent weeks.
Selections:  Champ Pegasus, Marlang, Unusual Suspect

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